Rules To Live By

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What follows are some rules for how to live the rest of your life. They’re from an article by Janet Sternberg in ETC: A Review of General Semantics. Most of them she attributes to a New York University professor, Neil Postman.

Now, these are rules to help you live in a decadent and decaying society, a fit description of America 2006. Some of them are facetious, but some are full of wisdom.

For example, don’t move to California. California practiced limp-wristed liberalism and is presently reaping what it sowed. Southern California now goes by the name of Mexifornia. Mexifornia has a lousy school system, too many people, too much development, bad air, high taxes and too much crime. Who needs it?

Another good rule is, do not watch TV news or read tabloid newspapers. Ms. Sternberg writes: "Life, as it is, is terrifying enough. Only a fool would expose himself or herself to an exaggeration of the danger." She is exactly right. You will find no useful information in TV news or tabloids. They are both corrupt.

Another rule is not to read any books by people who call themselves futurists, such as Alvin Toffler. They are, she says, up on technology but ignorant of human beings, and therefore are always wrong in their predictions. I agree. I spotted Toffler as a pretentious windbag the first (and last) time I read him.

Still another good rule is to establish as many routines as possible so you only have to think and make decisions about significant matters. Two rules that go together are these: Limit the amount of information you absorb, and seek significance in your work, friends and family.

Information used to be a survival necessity, but now it’s just a commodity, says Sternberg. How true that is. Literally tons of information are blasted at us from every conceivable media — most of it lies trying to sell us something, and much of it about things over which we have no control. It’s only with our personal work, our friends and our family that we can actually have some effect.

I go even further and suggest that for good psychological health, people should turn off the TV and radio and cancel any newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Andrew Lytle, a Southern novelist, lived like that and told me, "If anything important happens, I’ll hear about it by rumor." To paraphrase an old newspaper slogan, 99 percent of the news you don’t need to know.

Of course, that would put me out of business, but I learned a long time ago that just because you give people advice doesn’t mean they are going to take it.

Another rule is, limit the subjects on which you have an opinion. As she says, we all have the right to have an opinion about everything, but there are some things we just aren’t qualified to have an opinion about. Again, that’s true. There are certain areas of the world I never write about because I do not have sufficient background knowledge of those areas to have an opinion.

Opinions, if they are to have any value, have to be based on knowledge and experience. That’s why we don’t ask the plumber for his opinion about our health and don’t call the doctor when the dishwasher leaks.

The purpose of all of these rules is to help us live in peace and harmony. There is no point in worrying about anything that is inevitable. There is no point in worrying about anything over which we have no control. And, as the Roman stoic Epictetus reminds us, the only thing we can really control are our own thoughts.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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