Life is precious. We all say that but the evidence often tells a different story. When I started doing health counselling in the early 1970’s one of my first clients was a man who was brought to see me by his wife; this is often the case. She had good results with a program I had given her and wanted the same benefits for her husband. He was overweight and had very high cholesterol levels so we reviewed his history and began the process of creating a health plan for him.
We were progressing nicely ‘til I got to the part about foods to reduce or avoid for a three-week trial period so that he could assess the results. I explained to him that there were some foods to he should stay away from; cheese was on the list. His face clouded over and he said, “Cheese? You want me to avoid cheese?” I told him that would be best at least for the three-week trial period and he uttered the phrase that has never left my mind, “I would rather die than not eat cheese.” I made the mistake of smiling but he was serious; we could say dead serious.
He told me in no uncertain terms, that cheese was his favourite food and he was not giving it up; there would be no negotiations. No science, common sense or concern was going to sway him. If it was life or cheese, he chose cheese.
When I tell students this story they always laugh. It does seem ridiculous but it’s really not funny. These decisions are made daily by all of us. We are not fully aware of the absurdity of our choices even when they concern our life. The impact of these poor choices may be ruled by culture, emotion or bad information but the result is the same. The full tragedy of these choices is that they happen on the social level as well as the personal.
I know that it was Cheese Mans’ right to choose whatever diet he wanted. On one level I respect that freedom and hope that he had a long and fruitful life. The problem is that the choices we make affect much more than our own well being. The effect of our personal decisions ripples out into the world and affects the lives of others. They impact our family, society and the environment. We do not live in isolation from the rest of the world; we are all parts of the web of life and all of those parts are interdependent.
The food we eat, the appliances we buy, the cars we drive and the toys we purchase for our children all influence the world around us. Every once in while some pious person drops this fact into the conversation and things get messy. Most people are not happy with thinking about this. If we have the resources to do so we would simply like to enjoy the luxury of abundance regardless of the outcome. In fact, we will even buy into the old tricksters who tell us that spending till we drop is an act of faith in God and country. When the state of society is gauged by the Consumer Confidence Index or monthly new car sales we should be very, very worried. Most of us were taught that it was the tasty treats and the latest conveniences and toys were the rightful benefits of living life according to the rules and working hard. We have been trained to play the game and reap the rewards.
The problem is that the game was fixed, the training was misguided and rules didn’t make sense. The rigorous training we get is not for playing the game of life but the game of death. No matter how good we are at competing in the contest of contemporary culture we lose…big time. Not only that but we take others down with us. Pardon me for sliding over onto the dark side but that’s the way it looks from here.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a real Right to Life movement? The right of every living thing to be honoured: plants, animals, all the human race, all the fish in the sea? What a concept. My recently formed friendship with space travellers has been somewhat enlightening on this issue.
Visitors from other planets are often heard to comment, “Gosh, we have never seen suicide on such a grand scale.” Their point seems to be that since the one predictable fact of life is that we die, why push it along? Why not stretch it out and enjoy the ride? They simply can’t understand why we don’t want to have fun and live healthy lives. I have heard that space tourism has been brisk lately. A spectacle like this has never been seen before.
The most prominent galactic theory for this strange human behaviour is that we have simply not evolved past a collective infancy. The contention is that we are still babies with the characteristic dependence of expecting to eat, sleep and poop without having to clean up after ourselves or be responsible for our actions in any way. And oh, the tantrums we throw when someone tries to take away our favourite toys or deprive us of that extra cookie. The problem is that aside from deities who seem to have stepped out for walk and left us in the crib we have no Mommy and Daddy to take care of us.
Now I have always resisted this particular train of thought. My response is that we have a highly evolved brain and we are good at figuring things out. I mean what about the square of the hypotenuse, Rubrics’ cube and the shelf-life of packaged donuts? This always makes them laugh. Oh, how they laugh. You see, to them that is simply information and information is useless unless you use it for a good purpose. They can get really cocky sometimes, I can tell you that. They say that if we were really using our brains we would only be making decisions that would serve life.
I have stopped trying to convince them that human’s love life. They roll their little eyes and simply don’t believe me. The funniest thing they think is that we say we want to be healthy and we want to clean up the environment and that we want to feed the poor and yet we eat garbage (don’t get angry, that’s what they say), we flush poison in our rivers and a small number of people eat deep fried animal parts and gorge themselves while the rest of the world wonders where the next meal comes from. I told them about all the study groups, self-help seminars and government committees that were investigating the problem but they all yelled “Horse Pucky”. I don’t where they learned to talk like that.
I should explain here that my space buddies have a weird view of the world. They think that if we were really serious we would simply start living our lives as if life mattered every day. I know that this sounds too simple in the face of the complex issues we face but they seem to think that simple is good and action is essential. They say that if we all started to just eat good food, exhibit kindness and compassion to each other, stopped buying worthless junk and realized that without clean air and water we would die, that everything would change very quickly. I have had to point out that to them that people who think that way are suspected of being from another planet. They simply smile and nod.
I told them the Cheese Man story but they didn’t laugh. They told me that they wish us well but were leaving because they were getting bored. They only have one real worry - the space program. They are a little concerned that we might start travelling before we blow everything up and become some sort of interplanetary space virus. They refused to take me with them; they insist that it’s our problem and we have to fix it ourselves. One of them said, “The choice is yours, Cheese or Life?” They probably laughed all the way back to the Mother Ship.