We are, by nature, hysterical. I’m not singling out any group — Americans, liberals, conservatives, religious fundamentalists, 14-year-old girls — I’m talking about Homo sapiens (which, ironically, is Latin for “wise man”). We gravitate toward hysteria like big hairy moths bashing into a bare porch bulb. Every year offers new proof; this year it was the Tea Party, or at least its most vocal, visible elements. (As a Tea Party critic I am frequently told in admonishing tones that the guys and gals dressed in Revolutionary War costumes waving Hitler signs are an outlier. I suppose I buy it, though for an outlier there sure are a lot of them.) But anyway — my point isn’t, again, to single anyone out. We’re all, to varying degrees, guilty.
And so here’s my catchall New Year’s resolution: calm the f#@% down. Breathe. In and out. Take a walk; play with your children; eat an ice cream sandwich. And try to remember how incredibly lucky we are — no matter how unlucky our present circumstances may be — to exist in the first place. “How,” to quote Monty Python, “amazingly unlikely is your birth.” To say life is a gift is to recycle a cliche that’s trite even by cliche standards — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Every moment, every conversation, every small revelation, every rain drop on your windshield is unique and fleeting and amazing when perceived through the flawed, perfect prism that is the human mind.
And here’s another thing that’s true about all of us: we want to do good, and we don’t want to hurt others. Oh yes, there are exceptions. Lord knows there are exceptions. But in general, the people you meet, if you strip away whatever protective layers they’ve installed out of laziness and necessity, are an awful lot like you. And that’s a good thing, because it means we aren’t as alone as we tend to think, that we have fellow travelers on this crazy spinning space ride who might even be willing to let us glance at their map or share a sandwich.
I’m not saying don’t wave signs or shout slogans or shake a fist at your oppressors, real and imagined. There’s a time and place for that, both as an exercise in populist muscle-flexing and as a release valve for the pent-up rage we all acquire along the bumpy boulevard of bills and pink slips and personal failures. By all means find outlets for your angst — preferably constructive ones, but hey, sometimes you’ve got to bite the pillow that’s closest to you.
All I ask is that we (and, to reiterate, this decidedly includes “I”) try to pick our battles, to recognize when we’re being manipulated (when the burning we feel is being fed more by cable networks and reality TV stars than our own moral compass), and most of all to dilute our anger with a healthy dollop of rumination and, whenever possible, tranquility. It’s better for you, better for the greater social experiment, and better for your pillow.
Happy New Year.