Balancing Act: The Newsletter (No. 183, November 2014 )
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I'm floating around in the surf at Palm Beach on a day so perfect that it seems filmed on the MGM back lot. Infrequently, a large, gorgeous jellyfish floats by, depending on the elements for propulsion. If they are the stinging type, the result is less than a bee sting and eased readily with clean water and/or white vinegar.
One washes up on shore and this insubstantial invertebrate causes immediate concern. People get out of the water and stare at the doomed creature as if Godzilla, infected with Ebola, had just hit the beach.
"Do these sting? We shouldn't be near them," said a woman from Germany, supported by another from Mexico. "They only sting non-locals," I muttered, and my wife told me to shut up.
A bit later, a large school of tarpon swam by, a black, ominous cloud under water, the SUVs of fish. Right away, someone said, "They will draw sharks!" and people started looking for dorsal fins. I started humming the theme from "Jaws" until once again, my wife shot me a look.
I'm wondering if people, outside of a football game or Vegas casino, are still capable of enjoying themselves, or if they see danger with every stride or breath. I've been on five planes hit by lightening, and nearly drowned twice (I won't count bad hangovers) and I look forward to enjoying myself every day.
I don't believe you hang out with the seals around Nantucket, because great whites feast on them. I wouldn’t kamikaze sky dive (where you throw out your chute first, then jump after it and reclaim it while falling rapidly toward earth). But running from the ocean because of a couple of jellyfish or a school of fish is not my idea of a bold approach to life.
I know a guy we call "Gloomy Gus," because if he won the lottery tomorrow he'd spend the rest of the day complaining about the taxes. I'm just the opposite.
The way I look at it, I'm playing with house money.
The human condition: Paranoia
When we choose to believe only those sources which are in agreement with us—no matter how remote and suspect they may be—and disbelieve those sources which do not support our position—no matter how well-informed and valid they may be—that's paranoid.
Believing that every ill that befalls us is the result of some conspiracy is also pretty paranoid. Whether it's the United Nations trying to take over the world, or the US government deliberately allowing 9/11 to occur, or some coalition of government and billionaires manipulating the economy, it's a dangerous sign. Paranoia is a mental disorder that includes delusions of persecution, distrust of almost all institutions and conventions, and a feeling of strong self-importance.
The recent Ebola crisis is an example of people showing irrational fear over a disease that cannot be spread via airborne means—one must come into contact with bodily fluids of infected people to contract the disease. Yet there were questions on the internet about whether people would attend the Texas State Fair because of a case in a Texas hospital. A school was closed because the principal visited a non-Ebola part of Africa months ago. This way lies madness.
Paranoia is also another instance of deep-seated victimization, where people deliberately develop learned helplessness because "they" are against them and "they" have malicious intent. I believe it's healthy to be scared of clear and present danger: someone with a gun, an approaching tornado, extreme air turbulence. I believe it's unhealthy to believe that the government is keeping UFO wreckage and aliens in hangars in the desert.
We need to live our lives based on facts and empirical evidence, and have the confidence and resources to find and act upon legitimate and accurate information. We need the self-esteem to help us believe that we can succeed and fail based upon our own talents, and not based upon hidden wizards behind green curtains pulling strings and turning knobs.
Conspiracy theories and their underlying paranoia are created when people would rather be victims than take control of their fate. They are spread and sustained by others who don’t rely on serious sources but are susceptible to the latest rumor on social media platforms.
Don't fall victim to paranoia. It creates an exaggerated sense of self-importance ("I have the real story") which will be defeated by those with a true sense of self worth ("I know how to find and prove the real story").
They are expanding my garage and in so doing have dug and are pouring a new foundation. I wandered out and noticed that the wooden forms were uniformly filled with cement, except one, which had obviously been overlooked.
I yelled to the departing crew, "Hey, look at this one without cement! What do you call that?!"
The foreman yelled back, "We call it a door," and drove off.
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