New year is a good time to change our spots

Tomorrow, it will be 2014. And I don’t know about you, but I am so looking forward to the end of 2013. Kick that old geezer out the door.

Today, class, we will discuss humanity’s annual self-flagellation exercise –the cataloging of our sins, vices, and flaws, and the promise never to do any of them again –or at least for a month. Maybe a week. But I digress.

In a new atmosphere of brotherhood and community I hope to spread throughout the land, I propose a new tradition: community-flagellation.

In that spirit, I present: A few things the human race needs to work on in 2014.

Number 1: Patience. We don’t have any.

Collectively, we are a dangerously hyper nation, scurrying here and there like ants without a hill. Nowhere is this more evident than on our overcrowded roads.

Cars zipping in and out, trying to be first, cars running red lights as if they didn’t exist, the famous Fairbanks rolling stop – only now it should be called the “Fairbanks I’ll think about maybe slowing down a little” rolling delay.

Our bodies aren’t made for this constant rushing — the stress of it causes our blood pressures to rise, our tempers to explode, and general mayhem to be committed in the name of getting there first. Not to mention that ice thing sending us careening into snow-filled ditches. Or other cars. Or upside down. None of which are good for your health.

The solution, of course, is for us to slow down. But after a while, your body gets so used to rushing that it’s hard to do. Physics state that a body in motion tends to stay in motion – once you get going, it’s difficult to get that body in rest.

My resolution is this: When in your car, turn off talk radio and tune to classical music. I know – classical? But there is something very soothing about it — it calms you, makes it not so important that the blue Mazda just cut you off. Or – how about this radical solution – drive to work in silence. Pay attention to the road, instead of the music or spouting heads, and arrive at your destination calm, serene, and ready for an awesome day.

Number 2: Racial profiling. We’ve got to stop.

Admit it – you’ve sat next to someone of a different ethnicity at some time and thought, “Gee, S/he sure is different. Could s/he be dangerous?”

Even now, 12 years after 9-11, anyone who looks even remotely Middle Eastern is suspect – to the point that passengers have been booted off planes because the flight attendant “didn’t like his looks.”

Allegations of police stops for “Driving While Black” abound. What ever happened to all men are brothers?

And we won’t even go into Trayvon Martin territory or Stand Your Ground.

The problem is we base our judgments on first impressions. It’s physiological, folks – we’re hardwired to do it. And back in the caveman days, it made sense – automatically assuming that saber tooth tiger wasn’t a nice kitty or that Neanderthal from a competing tribe isn’t Ogg from next door might just save your life. Our technology has advanced, but our bodies still party like it’s 10,000 B.C. But these days, it doesn’t have to be that way. And anyway, initial visual threat levels aren’t always – in fact, they are rarely – obvious; ask the parents of any of Ted Bundy’s victims.

Living in fear has obvious results: our blood pressures rise, our tempers explode, and general mayhem is committed in the name of “being safe.”

The solution: Let’s retain or retrieve our long-lost child-like sense of solidarity.

True story: During the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, I lived in Pittsburg, California, with my three daughters, the oldest of whom was 7 at the time. Pittsburg in those days was very ethnically diverse, with Caucasians outnumbered three to one. With the daily news and radio reports blasting out statistics and beatings and rioting and general mayhem, things in our little corner of town got very tense. We all started looking at each other suspiciously. If California had been one of those Second Amendment states, I believe there would have been a lot of bloodshed.

The kids, usually quite indifferent to the fact that some were white, some brown, some dark brown, and some tan, started feeling the tension. Eventually, my oldest daughter lost her patience.

“Why is everyone in such a bad mood,” she asked me one day.

Trying to explain racial violence to a child raised to see people, not colors was … difficult. But I managed. I think.

She surprised me, but I shouldn’t have been. She was, and still is, remarkably perceptive about things like that. She looked at me like I’d just told her Santa had two heads.

“Don’t they know we all look the same under our skin?”

Resolution: Duh. It shouldn’t take a child to make us see the obvious facts – there are good humans and bad humans: sometimes good guys look a little ratty; often, evil wears an expensive suit and drives a Mercedes. Here in Fairbanks, we’re told that the ratty man with moose-blood-stained Carhartts might be the richest man in town, so treat everyone accordingly.

Try being a little less paranoid and a little more open.

Number 3: Multi-tasking. We’ve gone insane.

In the beginning, multi-tasking sounded like a good idea. Use some of your “wasted” time to accomplish something, therefore not wasting any time.

But now we fill every waking minute with tasks – and it’s making us nuts. We don’t have time to reflect anymore, to look at the landscape, to appreciate a V-formation of Canada geese overhead. And in this landscape, that’s sinful.

And please, watching a man cut his nose hair at a red light is just not a sight I need at 7 a.m.

All this stress is causing our blood pressures to rise, our tempers to explode, and general mayhem to be committed in the name of getting more done.

The solution is to cut down on the number of things we do at any one time. What, do you get a prize if you have the longest To Do list checked off? Instead of “He/She who dies with the most toys wins,” it’s now “He/She who gets the most done before they die wins.”

The proliferation of smart phones and other electronic gadgets has only made this worse. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone just sitting on a bench in the park, watching the clouds roll by or laughing at the antics of the kids or dogs. Most of the time, if they are sitting, they sit hunched over a teeny little contraption, staring gape-mouthed at some news site or You Tube video, twisting their thumbs in unnatural positions as they make birds drop stuff on pigs (I think that’s what that game is all about), or scrolling through Facebook posts or tweets.

The next generation is going to be born hunch-backed with gigantic thumbs if we’re not careful.

And did I mention how sinful it is to waste this beautiful place?

My resolution is this: Priorities, people. Most of the stuff we wear ourselves out doing won’t matter in five years anyway. Heck, they won’t matter in five days.

If we learned nothing else on Sept. 11, 2001, or after Hurricane Katrina, or Superstorm Sandy, or any of the other disasters we’ve lived through this past decade and a few, we should have figured out that life is fragile, and there are no promises, no guarantees. Houses get dirty, laundry piles up, bills come due — but those things are always going to be there. Our children, our parents, spouses, friends, and colleagues may not be, so it behooves us to cherish them.

If you don’t get the Christmas cards out until next week, I don’t think anyone is going to cut you out of their will, unless you send one to Martha Stewart, and she’s seriously obsessive-compulsive anyway, so she’ll probably leave all her money to her cats or something.

And for those who must pursue their personal hygiene in public, I say this: Try getting up five minutes earlier and cut your nose hair in private, thank you very much.

For the record, my personal resolutions for 2014 include: find a job; write at least two books; come up with fascinating, interesting, and amusing blog posts weekly; continue to write honest (if snarky and scathing) book reviews; love and cherish my dog, mom, kids, grandkids, and friends; and spend more time outside (even when it’s cold – really) appreciating and loving this beautiful world I call home.

Join me?

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