A friend of mine once went for a physical, and one of the standard questions the doctor asked was, “Do you drink alcohol?”
“Yeah,” my friend said.
“How much?” the doctor asked.
“A lot,” my friend said.
“How much is a lot?”
Cornered, my friend hesitated, then blurted out:
“More than everybody else!”
Whatever it is that you do more than everybody else, or less than everybody else, or with more intensity than everybody else, or more publicly than anybody else, or in a different style than everybody else, it seems to me that you should ask yourself:
What would life be like if everybody behaved like this?
And if the answer is, “terrible,” “impossible,” or “unbearable”—isn’t it right to at least consider not acting that way, for that reason alone?
And I don’t just mean reckless drinking or physical behavior. I mean reckless conversation and lying and shouting. I also mean extreme sobriety, propriety and piety.
I mean everything you do, and everything you don’t do, everything you attend to, and everything you don’t, everything you say, and everything you hold back: What would it be like if everyone else played it the same way?
I don’t mean that should be the only criterion—that would be paralyzing, and prevent individuality, and exceptional behavior (and thank Christ there’s only one Weird Al Yankovic)—but shouldn’t it be one of them?
In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway criticized Jordan Baker for her driving:
“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”
“I am careful.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.
“What’s that got to do with it?”
“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”
“Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.”
“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”
I suppose most of us are careless some of the time, and behave in ways that force others to alter their lives in order to keep out of our way.
I hope to do a little less of that, in 2023—and every year after that.
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