Opinion

Eleven Things I Intend to Keep on Doing

A curmudgeonly retort to the life lessons of Huffpost.

By Crawford Kilian 24 Jul 2015 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

With the blinding speed we septuagenarians put on as we sprint to the finish line, I'm approaching my 75th birthday. And I've achieved this great age without ever having had the counsel of a life coach. Until the other day, I had no idea how lucky I'd been.

That's because the other day I ran across a Huffington Post item by Carolyn Maul, a "Lifestyle Coach and Fitness Expert," on 11 Things to Quit Immediately. I'm extremely grateful that Maul wasn't dispensing this advice circa 1960, when I was young and impressionable and might have bought into it.

She introduces her listicle by observing "there are many things in life that cause us to feel stress and sadness," and that ceasing some behaviours will give us "a life that feels easier and lighter." Then she goes on to name her 11 wisdoms, which I have restated here, followed by my own take.

1. Quit resisting change. This is the philosophy of the Borg: Resistance is futile, so let it happen. That's OK for dealing with the way I look in the mirror when I shave every morning, but it's not OK for dealing with the changes that our political and corporate masters have been trying to foist on us since I was a toddler. If some of us hadn't resisted change, we'd be living in a police state -- or dead under the rubble of a nuclear war. I wish we'd resisted a lot more.

2. Quit thinking you can control everything in your life. This must come as a thunderbolt to persons with narcissistic personality disorder, and to the Prime Minister of Canada, but the rest of us understood this, loud and clear, by the age of three if not sooner.

3. Quit making excuses. "When we get down to it, excuses are just so lame." No, excuses describe the events or situations that keep us from realizing our goals. If the excuses are lame, perhaps we need to consider whether our goals were realistic in the first place.

4. Quit blaming other people. "No one else is preventing you from getting what you want. You are 100 per cent responsible for your own life." So it's your own damn fault if you can't afford to buy a condo; why don't you go out and rob a bank like every other enterprising Canadian?

5. Quit complaining. If we'd quit complaining in the 1950s about atmospheric nuclear testing, many HuffPost readers would be dead today, even without a Third World War.

6. Quit criticizing. "This happens when we mistakenly believe in perfection." No, criticism happens when people behave badly when they should have known better. No criticism? They will behave even worse, especially politicians.

7. Quit telling so many negative stories to yourself. "If you are constantly telling yourself how much you suck, how you should be better, how you screwed up this or that or the other thing you will keep undermining your happiness." Being an imperfect human being, you often do suck. You get better by criticizing yourself and working on your problems. And if you think you're just fine the way you are, you can lie to yourself even in your dreams.

8. Quit needing to be always right. "This is a function of ego." No, this is a function of constantly challenging your own vision of the world as well as others'. Needing to be right is nothing like thinking that you're right. If you don't need to be more or less right, you can accept the opinion of the next charlatan you meet, or your own wishful thinking.

9. Quit putting labels on things. "We label things in order to make sense of our world." The world won't make sense without labels. As we learn, we find we sometimes need better labels, but we can't abandon them altogether.

10. Quit fantasizing over the past. One thing you learn in your eighth decade is that all those decades have largely evaporated; you have scraps of memories, not a continuous narrative. If you don't revisit those scraps, and consider what you might have done instead, you have literally learned nothing.

11. Quit living your life for other people. "There is not another person on earth who sees things the same as you or who has your beautiful insights." People are social animals; we have to live for one another. If our parents hadn't stopped living their lives for themselves, we kids would have been goners. (Some parents don't stop living for themselves, and it shows in the kids.) And how do I know my insights are ipso facto beautiful? If I don't share them with others, I'm just talking to myself.

The demand for advice like this is nothing new. When a society starts changing, older values are lost. A new generation finds itself gaining power, opportunity, and a hope of social mobility without a clue about how to use them. It creates a market for quick, easy, effortless wisdom.

No doubt the self-help gurus mean well. So did the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, when it wanted us to think of radiation from atmospheric atomic tests in terms of "sunshine units." Things like nuclear radiation and loneliness do make us feel "stress and sadness," as Maul observes.

We might deal better with stress and sadness if we tried to identify and eliminate their causes, instead of conning ourselves into masking their symptoms. Ignoring Maul's advice has enabled me to totter into my 70s, and I have some hope of seeing my 80s. This is no time to change policies.

But that's just my advice -- free and worth what you paid for it.  [Tyee]

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