A Happy Face

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways

Those who regularly read my columns know that I typically write about what's wrong with the world. This makes perfect sense. Our early ancestors came in two models: optimists and pessimists. Hearing a sound behind them, while walking along a jungle path, the former figured it was a coconut dropping and turned to have a bite while the latter, convinced it was one of those nasty saber tooth tigers, ran like Hell. When the optimist was right, he enjoyed a tasty lunch. But when he was wrong … he was lunch!

Fast forward to today and what do you find? There are many more of us with genes tuned to things that can go wrong than to the possibility of a free feed. Indeed, that ubiquitous happy face - when adopted as a way of life - can be downright hazardous to your health! Good things are nice. Bad things can kill you. So where are you going to put the emphasis?

Having said that, I must confess - I truly believe it's better to look on the bright side. I'm sure I don't have to tell you about all the studies showing the positive effects of a positive attitude. Correspondingly, it would be silly to try and argue that the worrywart has, in any way, a superior quality of life. Do understand, though, that I'm not talking about being some Pollyanna nitwit bent on banning the Death Penalty and passing the chicken soup. Not at all. But when you can find a bright side, shouldn't you enjoy it?

That's exactly what I was trying to do in a recent column I titled "Lookin' for Trouble." My point was that, when you come right down to it, we live in a time and place that by normal standards would have to be considered pretty swell. Famines and plagues are a thing of the past. If anything, we have too much food and too many pills leading to a downright porky population planning to outlive Social Security. Similarly, Cossack hoards have ridden into the sunset and nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition - for good reason. Let the cops rough up even the likes of a Rodney King and he walks away a millionaire.

And there's the rub. Human beings, genetically selected to anticipate the worst, are now getting into the habit of having to look around for trouble. They worry about, and actually perceive as a threat, the silliest things. Is the planet warming up? Will the titmouse go the way of the dodo? How is the next generation ever going to pay off the national debt? I'm sorry, but compared to the Black Death of 1350, and the Red Army of 1950, such concerns are small potatoes indeed. I'm not saying that we're out of the woods for good, that a stray comet's not headed our way, but for the time being at least - why not relax and enjoy?

So what do I get for my efforts at easing the minds of the masses, and encouraging them to assume a happy face for a change? Abuse! I'm held up as perhaps the only blockhead on the planet who hasn't noticed that the sky is falling. Well, I object to such rough handling at the hands of naysayers and nincompoops who don't know when they've got it good.

For example, there were those who wanted me to know that drugs were a problem and an equal number who wanted me to know that the War on Drugs was a problem. I say you guys should fight it out between yourselves. As I see it, if you feel they're a threat - don't use them. If you feel they're a threat to others - mind your own business.

Now if you see the "War" for the outrageous sham it is, remember that keeping chemicals illegal creates a thriving underground economy in the ghetto. Eliminate it and taxes will go up to support the ranks of the unemployed and the unemployable … that or the Barbarians really will be at the gates. Oh - and finding a stash (or planting one in the unlikely event that none exists) is an excellent means of putting away individuals who really should be put away.

One fellow actually wanted to worry about some corporate entity sticking labels on apples with an adhesive that wasn't approved for human consumption. This reminds me of the chronically depressed patient who told me he couldn't be happy as long as there was one unhappy person in the world. Some people just gotta worry I guess.

Then there was the pesticide threat. If these are such potent carcinogens, I suppose the American Cancer Society can supply figures to support significant increases in cancer deaths. Just to make sure though, perhaps you ought to investigate this before you start losing sleep. Then too, understand that there's always going to be a risk to benefit ratio. On the benefit side, pesticides, probably as much if not more than anything else, have virtually eliminated fly and mosquito born disease - formerly a very big and very legitimate worry.

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were both touted as grave concerns. Say What? Both are up and running (despite the former being called a worst case scenario) and providing the clean power so many of those self-same nervous Nellies crave. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Maybe we should all just turn out the lights and huddle by the bed.

As for all those famines, plagues and hostile invasions in other lands - Mother Nature knows best. That's how she controls population growth in places that can't support population growth. And besides, I never said the whole world was a great place to live. But to me this is like not walking on the beach in California because you know there's all that snow up in Maine. Personally, I've no idea what a bunch of tykes starving in backward places has to do with me. Isn't that why they typically have so many gods to look after them?

Of course there's always that big, bad power structure out to line its pockets at the cost of the common man. So what else is new? At least today he has enough left over for regular trips to Wal-Mart. And what, pray tell, would he do with a second stereo system anyway? The smart boys are always going to take their cut off the top - corporations or unions or congressmen or kings. Percentage-wise, there's a bigger chunk left over than is usually the case.

And finally, our failing educational system seemed to cause lots of concern. The truth is, public schools (and even some private schools) stink. But so what? Why would anyone think that schools have some sort of stranglehold on intellectual achievement? Haven't you ever heard that standard line from commencement exercises - Now you're about to graduate - and now you're about to truly start learning. It seems to me that people get to learn about as much as they try to learn, and it has nothing to do with administrator to teacher to student ratios.

Look At It This Way

OK - I apologize for trying to cheer you up. Baby Boomers have it better, arguably, than even those Egyptian Pharaohs with their bitchin' toothaches and that Roman Emperor with his fall down and bite your tongue epilepsy. I could make countless other comparisons but forget it. If you're going to insist on whining, all I can say is: What - me worry?

Readers may contact the author (but only if you've got a smiling face) directly at: DrSBMason@aol.com

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