While at the gym this morning I started observing, unobtrusively, the macho men working out around me. This was the late morning crew so these are guys who, I presume, have the time to train regularly as opposed to 9-5-lifers who do their best to fit the gym around work and fail. One incontestable fact about the guys with me in the gym was their muscled torsos were in stark contrast to their reed legs. And when these he-men looked at themselves in the mirror (as we all do but never seeing what’s really there) their legs obviously didn’t exist. That got me thinking about how what gets measured gets done. Or to put it backwards what gets done gets measured. Just what do you measure in the legs? But it’s easy to measure chest size and biceps bulge and how many packs are visible in the abdomen area.
We tend to measure, not what is important and needs to be done, but what is easily measured. A trifling example: many and possibly most societies rank more highly the money a person makes than the person making the money. We count how many cars or homes they have, how much gold they wear, the cost of sending their kids to “that school” etc. We look at all that and say “Wow!” Since we can’t measure a person’s dignity or integrity or goodness we don’t, and like the proverbial blue bolt out of nowhere, we express mock surprise at epic ethical failures in politics or business or amongst our friends. We see this a lot in the hip-hop world where rappers mouth of on how much money they have, how many millions they can print just by spouting ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’. These rag-tag boasters (Kanye, Jay-Z, Puffy-Piffy-whatever, 2Chainz, Rick “the slob” Ross et al) serve as prominent role models for black youth (at least in America). Epic fail. We must do better.
A group of tourists was standing in the way listening to the tour guide and simultaneously glancing up at a rather typical row house. I looked up as I stepped around the group and read on a plaque on the building that “Charles Lamb Essayist Lived Here”. That building is en route from my home to the gym and I have walked that road many many times and only found out today, after almost five years, that the famed writer once lived not so far from me. I’d like to think that I’ll keep my eyes peeled from now on because London is full of such delightful surprises but knowing myself, human and all, I am far more likely to remain embalmed in me own thoughts and worries than being awed and amazed by life’s little surprises. Perhaps, therefore, one should be less human.
“The notion that truths external to the mind may be known by intuition or consciousness, independently of observation and experience, is, I am persuaded, in these times, the great intellectual support of false doctrines and bad institutions. By the aid of this theory, every inveterate belief and every intense feeling, of which the origin is not remembered, is enabled to dispense with the obligation of justifying itself by reason, and is erected into its own all-sufficient voucher and justification. There never was such an instrument devised for consecrating all deep seated prejudices.”
Autobiography, John Stuart Mill
The brain is stupendously good at picking battles. Listen to this.
The sound of the news coming from the radio plucked me, against my will, from that calm sea of cataleptic forgetfulness we call sleep. Forgetfulness, some might say, is the wrong term for a state in which we spend up to a third of our brief lives comatosed like a patient about to undergo surgery and who’s just been injected with propofol or some other anaesthetic and asked to count slowly to ten. For even in this paralyzed state, eyes closed, we see the strangest apparitions, hear the scariest voices, confront our scatty demons and sometimes soar through the air or ocean wielding harmless battle axes against equally harmless bandits. Our brains, wired up with their one hundred trillion synapses or some such uncountable number, never to go to sleep!
“That is loud, I mean wtf on a Sunday morning. Now I can understand if the time was 10 o’clock”. I laid in bed and struggled to galvanize my feeble energies to go knock on my neighbour’s door and demand they turn the radio down. I finally opened my eyes and turned to look at the clock and by gad it had just gone past 10 o’clock. Obviously this would not be worth retelling if this event happened every Sunday at the same time like clockwork but this, I swear, is the very first time I’ve been woken up in this fashion. Isn’t it amazing when our brains do this? We easily remember those countless times we go to bed thinking we really ought to wake up at six because [insert reason] and bam! at one minute to six we are wide awake. If this happens often enough we start to believe we are supermen eh, we think things and they come to pass. Just like they say in positive thinking circles or prosperity gospel sermons. Think and grow rich. It’s that easy.
Wait a minute. How come this never happens at bonus time? You can see the glum faces of colleagues as they come out of their reporting managers’ rooms after they’ve been recounted the same spiel as the year before: “You know with the economy as it is the company hasn’t done as well as we wanted BUT we really value your contribution and despite what’s happening in the business we’ve been able to find you a bonus of [.]” Like you, they probably did their best to mask the disappointment. All those neurons over the preceding days working up an expectation of a bonus large enough to pay off the mortgage or buy a Ferrari. Those neurons were wrong. They picked the wrong battle.
Oh, what a frightful embarrassment that moment you realise that the “Hello” you just hello-ed back wasn’t meant for you but for the person behind you. And there you were thinking Gosh such a good-looking person is accosting me on the street, Lord what a lucky so-and-so I am. Obviously you couldn’t see behind you the good-looking friend of the good-looking accoster since evolution hadn’t thought it necessary to put eyes in the backs of our heads. Two eyes in front are good but, at least, one more at the back could save us a lot of bright florid blushes.
I like to think of evolution as beyond God. You see, according to the Holy Books, God made us in His own image so I presume naturally that God has two eyes, both facing forward. I’m not exactly sure why God would need eyes at all since He knows everything everywhere at every instant and eyes are for those who need to see what’s going on in front and perhaps a bit to the sides. Perhaps a modern St Aquinas can help us here. But for humans, having only front facing eyes leaves us with a number of problems that we don’t need and that evolution could have helped with.
For instance without eyes at the back of our heads we can’t see if someone is approaching our head from behind with a machete in hand. It is a well known phenomenon that a head meeting a machete disadvantages only one of the combatants and it’s always the same one.
Another difficulty, though one less fatal, is that we can’t tell who’s sniggering behind our backs. We all know how it is with our fellow humans, some of us do it too, who hail Welcome to ‘friends’ and ‘comrades’ and can’t wait to plunge into an animated debate over the price of bread or oil or the cost of sending children to school or about the new war in the Middle East. But as soon as you turn your back the flock of previously rounded noses behind you assume the shapes of wrinkly mushrooms, eyes are rolling around like balls on lottery night and mouths start salivating with gossip. How many of our young people have been driven to suicide by not being able to see the sniggering rascals and at least have the opportunity to tell friends from frenemies?
The other vexing issue is that if you know that a really good looking woman (or man) is walking right behind you and they previously caught your eye (and not necessarily the other way round) you won’t know if they are admiring your ass or simply casting around for a good price in the sale windows or enjoying the flowers in someone’s front porch. You could spend a lot of wasted time and energy swaying your hips in the most embarrassing and suggestive fashion.
“In [most] matters as in diplomacy, a nicely conformist nature, a good tailor and the ability to articulate the currently fashionable cliche have usually been better for personal success than an excessively inquiring mind”.
Adapted from the book: Money: Whence It Came, Where It Went by John Kenneth Galbraith
This afterall is the conundrum facing most creative minds: do as they do and be loved or blaze your own path and love yourself. It’s the difference between being an employee and an entrepreneur. Remember though that most businesses fail so this conundrum could be the difference between food on the table for you and your children or food stamps and the soup kitchen. It is certainly the difference between playing office politics in a wild scramble for juicy assignments and/or the fulfillment that comes from doing what you love best and kicking ass while doing it. It’s not an easy decision. But shouldn’t it be?
Is there anything we humans can get right?
While Catholics fret over a new Fuhrer (sorry, Pope)
and North Korea’s new ass-dictator plays schoolboy games with nuclear weapons
and American Republicans filibuster everything under the sun
and hip-hop rappers front about how they roll and how much paper money they are making
and Islamists burn flags and effigies and dream about virgins in heaven
and authorities imprison petty thieves then bail out financial crooks
and the English obsesses over Wayne Rooney and the cost of nannies
and …. oh what the hell … the rest of the insanities of the human condition
Meanwhile we destroy the only home we have and (probably) will ever have. Planet Earth.
We are insane and that’s official.
But what can I do? What will I do?