I always find it interesting that the euthanasia debate pops up in the media quite regularly, but that we don’t ever seem to get anywhere with passing a law about it. Perhaps the day will come when that changes, but until then, it means that individuals and their families (and often the medical staff) are left in a legal limbo, where euthanasia or assisted suicide happens everyday, but behind closed doors, and without a broader conversation.
‘If you could choose,’ I said to the Handsome Sidekick one day, a few months ago, ‘would you rather receive recognition from your peers, or from the general public? Bearing in mind that the recognition from your peers might mean that you earn less money, than if you were to become famous in a mainstream sense.’
He thought for a while.
‘I guess… my peers?’ he said. ‘I mean, sure, it would be great to have both. But I suppose I’d rather have people who I know really value this stuff, also think that my stuff is good.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Me too, I think.’
Of course, neither of us is in the position where we have to worry about choosing between the respect and admiration of our peers or our fans! But I have been thinking a lot about recognition lately, for a few reasons.
I hadn’t heard about ‘FOMO’ until I read about it in an article. Apparently, it’s really a thing! Through social media, people can tailor their online presence to appear to have a certain kind of life, and others who view this presentation then fret about why they don’t have that, too (Fear Of Missing Out).
That’s not news. That’s always happened. It’s always been the case that it’s easy to look at someone else’s life and believe that they have it better. We’ve always imagined that movie stars are all tremendously rich and confident and popular, when the reality is that they’re just people, and while they might have more money at their disposal which means they can afford more ‘stuff’, it doesn’t follow that they’re any more content than your average person.
Their internet persona just makes it seem as if they do.
Recently, changes to our migration act here in Australia meant that any non-Australian citizen who served a prison sentence for more than 12 months would be at risk of deportation at the end of their prison sentence. No doubt this was an attempt to rid our otherwise unsullied paradise of unsavoury foreign types who go around committing crimes and generally bringing down the tone of the place.
First Offspring brought home his results from the NAPLAN tests recently. NAPLAN is a series of standardised tests which are conducted in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine, and tests numeracy and literacy. I expected First Offspring to do OK, since he seems to have the basics of reading, spelling and writing, and his maths has really taken off this year. And he did do OK. I’ll admit I don’t place that much importance on standarised tests as it’s one test on one day and there’s a lot more to teaching and learning. So I praised First Offspring for doing well in the tests and said that we were happy that he’d tried really hard. But what made me smile was his result for ‘Grammar and Punctuation’, where he scored his highest mark, right at the top of the scale.
‘The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,’ I laughed to the Handsome Sidekick. ‘Trust the editor’s Offspring to do well in that section.’
Recently I mentioned to some friends that I had so much yoghurt, I was considering making labneh. (I didn’t, partly due to the lack of required olive oil, and partly because I didn’t think anyone in the family would eat it apart from me). One of my friends said she’d felt ignorant, when she didn’t know what labneh was, but then thought, ‘…of course you can’t know everything!’
Fortuitously, the post I was going to write last week is even more relevant this week, considering that yesterday (and in some parts of the world, still today) was World Food Day. This year, the emphasis is on family and subsistence farming, and how they help to combat, among other things, hunger.
The trouble with talking about hunger, though, is that many of us in the developed world see it as a problem for others. When food shortages happen in other places, it can be devastating, but here, most of us are in the position where we don’t have to worry too deeply. Potatoes are too expensive? We can buy pasta instead. We have alternatives. In fact, most of us don’t know what it is like to go hungry, so much that there is a shame associated with not having enough to eat, especially if it is the case that you cannot feed your children.
I read a post the other day called ‘Why I Put My Husband Before Our Kids.’
It’s not the kind of thing I usually read, but I was curious, because I don’t, actually, put the Handsome Sidekick before our Offspring, and I wondered whether the article might have something interesting to say about why I should.
Apparently, it’s written in response to another article, which I also wouldn’t normally read, especially given the advertisements for other articles interspersed in the text (7 Sex Positions Men Love/I’m Cheating On My Husband… Am I A Bad Person?/How to Kiss Well …no, I am not making these up).
I spent some time with my parents yesterday, whom I see quite rarely (we live in different cities, several hours’ drive apart), so there was a lot of catching up to do, stories to exchange, that kind of thing. Among some of the things we talked about was an accident involving two young children. The boy, an 11-year-old, died, and his younger sister was flown to hospital.
‘How sad,’ I said, thinking — as I always do, in cases like this — of my own children, and my own childhood.
When I was nine years old, I was taught to drive — well, I was taught to put the ute into gear, let the clutch off slowly, and drive between paddocks or piles of mallee roots. By the time I was twelve, I was allowed to perhaps drive from the sheds to the house (around two hundred metres). It’s unlikely that I would personally have been driving far or fast enough at that age to have an accident, but one of my classmates might have. Most children my age could drive; some started driving the family tractor by the time they were in their early teens. For many young people it was a rite of passage, and for farmers who were always trying to fit ten days’ work into every week, it was helpful to have an extra pair of hands on board.
When I read or hear about accidents like this, I wonder how we go about doing what we’ve always done. I think about my children and how I never want to let them drive. Ever. Not even when they’re sixteen and legally allowed to get a learner’s permit. And speaking of accidents, I don’t want to ever let them travel in a train through Spain, or, for that matter, on a bus in Italy. I’d rather they didn’t fly anywhere, either.
Accidents happen, and we should try and learn from them. But there is so much news about so many accidents, I feel as if I’m having to constantly be on alert. What could possibly go wrong? How did I not see that coming? How can I make sure this doesn’t happen to me?
I remember talking to a friend, years ago now, about determinism in philosophy. In fact, we were discussing the problem of free will and determinism, but right now, I’m just interested in the idea that every event takes place because it is necessarily connected to those which went before it, and necessary for those which will follow after it. In this sense, an accident is never an accident. It was part of an ever-unfolding series of events which are going to necessarily happen. People sometimes refer to it as ‘fate’, suggesting that something was ‘meant to be’. And within religion, there is often the argument that the deity has a plan, and that all which occurs in the world is part of it.
I’m neither religious nor determinist. Of course, I believe that some events are related to others — if I didn’t believe there were causal links here and there, I’d never know what to expect. But I’m convinced there is a whole lot of random out there, too. Accidents do happen. And I can’t help wondering if a believer of either determinism or religion is in a better position to deal with the fallout, than I am?
A determinist has determinism: it was always meant to be.
A believer of religion has God’s plan.
What do I have?
I wonder whether there is some comfort in a belief that there were never any way that things could have been different, that there is somebody or something — the universe, a divine being, Fate — controlling the events of the world, from whether you catch a cold next week, to whether you oversleep and arrive late at work, to whether you get a divorce or have a child or win the lotto. When bad things happen, thinking that it might all be part of something greater might be helpful. Perhaps it makes it easier to see individual events as part of a bigger picture?
Looking at it in this way, I see the appeal of determinism. I see the appeal of believing there’s a heaven, and that the person you’ve just lost will be waiting for you there. But the evidence still doesn’t pile up, for me. And I’m not convinced of the succour you gain from these beliefs. In the immediacy of the grief, the loss, the huge hole which has been left… nothing bridges that. Not heaven, not Fate. Perhaps in months afterwards, when time is sealing the wound a little, but not when everything is raw and so very painful.
That rawness and pain is what I want to avoid, and when I hear all these stories of suffering, I wonder, how is it we can find a way to just carry on? If determinism and religion are not going to do it, then what does? What is it that gives some kind of warmth in an otherwise apparently cold and accident-rich world?
Somewhat recently, I came to a realisation: that everything will probably work out. I’m sure I could be accused of being flippant or shallow, but this is honestly what gets me through. And I’m the first to admit, it’s not the quote of the century, and I’m not convinced I’d like it on my tombstone, but as a motto, it suits me pretty well.
I could worry about life and those I love and the rest of the problems of the world, but that won’t change anything, unless my worry prompts me to do something to change the world. And nobody can make me any guarantees. It might turn out terribly, but what’s the use in thinking that? I might as well look on the bright side.
Everything will probably be fine.
It doesn’t have the same certainty as a religious doctrine or causal determinism. But it has a ring to it. It’s saying that there could be some serious drama or disaster in the future, but even if they happen, we’re still likely to make it. People do, all the time: we have an immense capacity for survival, even in the deepest, darkest pits of lonely tragedy. And as we survive, we look for something which transforms simple existence into joie de vivre, and which help us get out of those chasms of sadness. For some of us, the promise of a plan will do the trick, but not for me, because I’m just not convinced that the promise is real, and I don’t deal well with causal absolutes. And what’s more, I don’t think either of these alternatives are the beacon they proclaim to be; they’re merely pinpricks of light in the darkness. At least my philosophy doesn’t pretend to take the pain away, it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, or even any of them. It is what it is, and so is life.
Everything will probably be fine?
I can work with that.