Oliver: Wanna shot of single malt, Terry?
Terry: Still got some of that Bunnahabhain?
O: Here. I wonder why some of our friends don’t show up to our music gatherings anymore; I know they’re not ill!
T: You can’t be sure of that mate; maybe they’re not letting on.
O: Well, that may be true of some, but others seem to have become curmudgeons. They always find an excuse to stay home and sit on the porch or watch TV.
T: Maybe it’s S.A.D.
T: No…well, yes. I call it Self-Arrest Disease.
T: Well, mate, they’ve decided that they are too old, painful, and tired to be appreciated anymore, so they place themselves under house arrest.
O: Right, they never seem to leave the house anymore.
T: They’ve chosen to become passive. Passivity is a disease. It makes strong people weak, and weak people demented. The passive life is a life without power or joy.
O: Who in their right mind would do that when seniors around the world are hiking mountains, sailing seas, writing books, teaching, volunteering, and finding ways to improve the lives of those around them?
T: Guys who are scared.
O: Of what?
T: They are scared of the unknown.
O: What are you talking about?
T: They’re afraid of dying, Ollie; they don’t know what’s on the other side and that fear is crippling them.
O: Many people are afraid of dying, but they don’t have S.A.D.
T: True, some people have strong religious beliefs that comfort them.
O: My father was a faithful evangelical all of his life, yet he still expressed doubts before he died. Without empirical evidence, no one can be sure of the absolute truth.
T: Perhaps many spokes lead to the same hub?
O: Or perhaps they just lead down the garden path.
T: That’s why some take refuge in science. If Einstein is to be believed, all matter is a manifestation of energy – ripples in the quantum field. These people reason that if all matter is energy, then all the energy in the universe, the entire quantum field, must be the universal spirit or God. They say that death is nothing more than a matter of ripples in the quantum field, us, returning to the form of pure energy, just as a snowflake always returns to the ocean. Nothing is destroyed or lost, it just changes form.
O: Who knows, man, it all seems like conjecture to me. I don’t think we have any more understanding of the absolute truth than my dog understands personal hygiene.
T: Hah! That’s funny. Did you know that the ancient Egyptians deified dogs as well as cats? But they worshipped the sun. I always thought that was a ridiculous idea, like worshipping trees or rocks. But if you see the sun as a visual representation of quantum energy, it makes sense.
O: What about people who don’t understand any of that?
T: They are the ones who are most afraid, and what they fear is being relegated to nonexistence for their sins.
O: Everyone commits sins. We all make mistakes, usually in ignorance. Now that we are older and know better, we’re ashamed. Back then, such behavior seemed advantageous – even if we knew it was selfish.
T: Moral behavior is part of the maturing process I suppose, but it doesn’t ameliorate the fear of divine retribution.
O: God, or the universal spirit, made us the way we are with all our shortcomings, Terry. He shouldn’t get too upset if we act accordingly. Are you going to beat your cat because it killed a songbird? If a cat acts like a cat, it can be argued that the cat’s creator is responsible for its actions. The behavior of humans is pretty consistent regardless of the era or culture. If the entire species is faulty, then the responsibility falls on the creator.
T: Or the programmer. Maybe the culture is responsible for behavior. Lots of people blame their parents, neighborhood, religion, or society at large for their actions.
O: The counterargument is that because humans can distinguish between right and wrong, they are responsible for their actions regardless of their past.
T: The problem is that the concept of right and wrong is cultural. The Plains Indians taught their young warriors that stealing a horse was a mark of bravery, but the white man hung horse thieves. Many medieval Europeans thought the Inquisition was moral, but their descendants repudiated it. The Old Testament rationalizes revenge as the will of God, the New Testament tells us to turn the other cheek. The 9/11 hijackers are reviled by the Western world, but many in the Muslim community believe they took a direct flight to heaven.
O: Too bad they didn’t fly solo.
T: Hah, right!
O: Maybe we should let our conscience direct our behavior.
T: There are people who don’t seem to have a conscience, or they’ve buried it – most of them are in jail or in politics. Others argue that conscience is a social construct indoctrinated into people as children. That was probably true of the 9/11 hijackers. They made the ultimate sacrifice believing they were doing the will of God. How many people are that committed to their faith? Should they be rewarded or punished?
O: Are you trying to tell me that there is no retribution for evil? Don’t you believe in justice?
T: Both sides in every war believe the other side is evil. Only the victor’s definition prevails. Is that just? Justice doesn’t seem to play a part in nature, so who knows if it plays a role in the cosmic scheme of things?
O: Eastern religions argue that Karma delivers justice.
T: Doesn’t always seem that way.
O: Maybe everyone should just stick to the Golden Rule.
T: That would make for heaven on earth, so long as no one violates it. But that seems inconceivable given human nature. So long as there are bullies in the schoolyard, there’ll be tyranny on Earth. That’s why these utopian political systems always fail. Any idealistic system that ignores human nature is destined to implode.
O: I have a cousin, Antoine, who was a bully not only in the schoolyard, but with his wife and family too. It irks me that he appears to be happy now.
T: He’s probably come to terms with his past.
O: If he’s come to terms with it, he must believe that some higher power has absolved him.
T: Not necessarily. Perhaps he’s learned to forgive himself. What else can he do? The past is the past, no one can change it. Would you have him become an addict or homeless? That’s what happens to people who can’t forgive themselves. Or they develop neurosis and disease.
O: I don’t know how people like Antoine can live with themselves.
T: Maybe they just choose to place their focus elsewhere. If you focus on the trees and rocks while riding a motorcycle, you’re headed for disaster. If you focus on the centerline, you’ll get through the turn safely. Life’s like that, it takes you where you place your focus. If you focus on negative things like your past or your fears, they’ll overcome you. The hypochondriac always gets sick. The timid always lose. But if you focus on positive things: improving other’s lives, entertaining friends, enjoying the beauty of nature, creating art, intellectual pursuits, appreciating the comforts of the western world – your senior years will be satisfying.
O: I’m not so sure the comforts of the Western world will last much longer the way things are going.
T: No one knows how things are going to turn out Ollie; besides, it’s out of your control. Why waste a dwindling resource like your life’s energy on things you can’t control? Fatalism leads to neurosis and disease.
O: Still, I‘m scared for my children and grandchildren.
T: They will experience what they experience whether you are scared or not. You have no power over that. Don’t be remembered as that paranoid grandparent!
O: No, I don’t want that.
T: Let me play the devil’s advocate and advance a worst case scenario. Imagine that the world is the Titanic just after hitting the iceberg. Remember that the band continued to play until the ship went down?
T: OK, as a passenger here’s your choice: you can go down screaming and scrambling in fear, or you can enjoy the music for as long as possible.
O: You’re saying that the world is like the Titanic?
T: With one big exception – nobody gets off this liner alive. So instead of panicking, we should savor the music.
O: Sounds like you want me to wear rose-colored glasses?
T: It’s your choice to see the world through rose-colored glasses or dark ones Ollie. That choice determines your world view, which determines your attitude towards life, which determines your quality of life.
O: That reminds me of something Shakespeare wrote, hhhhhhhummmm ……………Oh! “There’s nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
O: OK, I think we’ll have another shot of single malt and listen to some music.
T: Good idea. We have a lot for which to be grateful.
Header image courtesy of pixabay.com/FireFX.