A No-List Year


I read a blog recently by some guy who listed the 100 most annoying people and things in 2006. Well, maybe I’ll steal that idea, I thought, but then I realized that nothing in the past year annoyed me.

It’s difficult for me to imagine someone who gets annoyed by the antics of people he doesn’t know or by television shows, bands or movies. The answer is simple: Don’t watch, don’t listen and don’t go. It seems you must have a pretty empty life if the antics of celebrities bother you.

Personally, I don’t know any celebrities, don’t watch or read anything about celebrities and, to tell the naked truth, don’t care if they even exist or not. Celebrity is always an ephemeral phenomenon.

Weather doesn’t annoy me. Weather just is. It’s always something — hot or cold or in between, wet or dry, windy or still, sunny or cloudy. Personification of things that aren’t people is a bad habit. Even weather conditions that can be hazardous are without malice. It’s much more rational just to say what the weather conditions are than to say they are good or bad. Those are human concepts and don’t apply to nature.

I’ve always found it more comforting to live in a rational universe governed by immutable natural laws. Blaming God for natural disasters is a bum rap. It would be sacrilegious to suppose that God might get up on the wrong side of his celestial bed one morning and decide to kill 300,000 people with a tsunami out of spite.

He has given us a planet that has everything we need for life. He has given us a brain with which to understand our planet. It’s not his fault if people in Southeast Asia don’t establish a tsunami warning system. It’s not his fault if people decide to ride out a hurricane and drown.

There is an old joke about a preacher in the path of a flood. Officials came by in a Jeep and offered to evacuate him. "Don’t worry about me," the preacher said. "The Lord will take care of me." The waters rose, and he was forced to climb to his roof. Rescuers in a boat and later a helicopter came, but he sent them away, saying, "The Lord will take care of me."

The waters rose and the preacher drowned. When he arrived in heaven, he complained to the Lord, "I thought you would take care of me."

"Well," replied the Lord, "I sent you a Jeep, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?"

Using one’s brain to adapt to natural phenomena is a much safer choice than having faith in supernatural intervention. As for being annoyed, that is a purely subjective reaction to situations and people and is therefore under our control. You can choose not to be annoyed and you won’t be.

I often hang up on telephone salespeople, but I’m not annoyed by them. They are just human beings in a low-wage job trying to earn a living. Unless we were lucky enough to enter the Earth through a wealthy woman’s womb, we’re all trying to earn a living. If we allow ourselves to become annoyed, then there is something wrong in our life.

Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, said the world is divided into two realms: The things we cannot control and the things we can control. In the realm of things we can control, there is only one thing — our mind. We cannot control what other people do or say, but we can control how we react to what they do or say.

That’s how to avoid lists.

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