Pushing The River

How Not to Live Life With Skill

Native Americans understand that attempts to force a situation to move at one’s preferred pace, or to coerce a desired result regardless of who might suffer, are naive, frequently dangerous.  They gently mock the absurdity of such behavior, calling it “pushing the river.”

Nowadays many seem to revel in deliberate disregard of this old wisdom.

W. C. Fields, a famous and frequently drunk actor, is reported to have lurched unsteadily past his rose bushes one morning, snarling at them as he passed, “GROW! DAMN YOU!”

So many of us are addicted to being in control.

We regard life as a competition for scarce material blessings, with definite winners and losers.

“The one who dies with the most toys wins!”

We fight hard to be “winners”.  “Nice guys finish last!”  OMG, we just can’t be last!

It’s not merely, “What will people think?”  The underlying terror is, “What will people, (who think like us), DO to us?”  We go so far as to think, speak and act as if the “losers” in this competition are arrogant to expect compassionate treatment.

I’m (very) loosely describing characteristics of Social Darwinism, which, carried to its logical extreme position, requires the losers to die of whatever combination of social, psychological, political, and economic abuse, plus malnutrition and disease, afflicts them, and to do so very quietly, mind you, so as not to disturb the good time the “winners” are self-righteously enjoying, (and that the winner-wannabees are striving so hard to begin enjoying).

Social Darwinism is popular with some of the fat-wallet set, who find in it a justification for their accumulation of wealth and simultaneously, for their condescending or even sneering attitude toward the “losers”.  And this despite the fact that capitalism inevitably produces a certain number of such “losers”.

Layoffs, plant closings, downsizing, hostile takeovers, out-sourcing, mismanagement resulting in bankruptcy, etc., all produce some number of “losers”, who are frequently characterized as inferior, parasitic, or morally torpid because they can’t deal effectively with such events, and need a social safety net to stave off disaster.

Little is said about the glacially selfish, and/or stupid, and/or feloniously illegal conduct of  some owners, managers, brokers, bankers or speculators who created crises for these so-called “losers” in the first place.  These people believe they have gotten away with something.

Here’s the catch:  Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we all have functioning consciences, preprogramed to accept cooperative, compassionate conduct and to reject exploitative conduct.

The latter produces fear, guilt, and shame, which contribute to poor health, additional psychological problems, and self-destructive behavior aimed at silencing guilty consciences.

Attempts to silence guilty consciences don’t work.  Period.  End of story.

People with clear(er) consciences are free(er) of fear, guilt, and shame.  Thus they generally live longer, have better health, and are happier more often than their fear-, guilt- and shame-laden counterparts.

Which is worth more: being at peace with what we see in our mirrors, or attempting to silence rowdy consciences by, (among other practices), claiming that the “losers” are at fault, never the “river-pushers” who created the problems in the first place?

Care to share your thoughts?

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