Friday, April 30, 2010

The Drunken Boat

When you first hear that someone is suffering from an illness, romantic rejection, or financial setback, you respond with instantaneous demonstrations of sympathy, obligatory offers to do whatever you can (which is usually nothing), and self-congratulatory wails of indignation (which barely mask the schadenfreude—yes, like larceny, there is a little joy in others' suffering in everyone). But response to calamity is incremental. It comes in little waves. First there is shock, then relief (that it is not you), and then the blaming begins. They ate badly and didn’t do anything about the stress (victims of heart disease and cancer), didn’t really mind the books (financial disaster), didn’t see the writing on the wall (love). Calamity is frightening not so much for what it does to others, but because it can happen to you. But at least you can be assured that the victims of tragedy were responsible for their own demise. What a relief! All one has to do is avoid what unfortunate X, Y or Z does, and you won’t get cancer, fail in business, or lose a lover. Better yet, you won’t lose a business to a loved one who runs away with someone else because they’re afraid they’re dying of cancer and want to live for today! The unfortunate aspect to this reasoned approach to human loss is that it isolates the victim. Yes it’s bad, but if you have as little to do with him or her and go out of your way to avoid emulating their behavior, then you will be spared. It was sad about all those who went down with the Titanic, but none of this would have happened if they hadn’t taken a boat.

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