A Couple of Political Notes, and the Virtue of Underreacting

January 28, 2010 at 3:41 am | Posted in In the News, Links, The Heath Care System | 1 Comment

Obama's Inauguration

A crowd shot from President Obama's inauguration. He called us to action on that day; let's unite to answer his call.

Here are the words that most struck me in President Obama’s State of the Union address:

Every day, Americans meet their responsibilities to their families and their employers. Time and again, they lend a hand to their neighbors and give back to their country. They take pride in their labor, and are generous in spirit. These aren’t Republican values or Democratic values that they’re living by; business values or labor values. They’re American values.

Yup. I’ve talked about the importance of a work ethic in this space before. So often, genuine. pressing work needs call me out my self-absorbed misery and into a common enterprise. I was pleased to see President Obama (how I love those words!) reaffirm those crucial American values.

Here’s another crucial point: “I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I could do it alone.” At every campaign stop, Obama the candidate drove home the point that citizens can’t just vote and sit back. I admit, I’ve been guilty of this approach. It’s been a tremendous relief to go to bed at night knowing that I won’t wake up to be deprived of another civil right, or shocked by the news that our economy is teetering on the brink of total destruction.

But I need to get on the stick. You need to get on the stick. No matter what our ideological beliefs, we all share a belief in decency and hard work. So let’s get to it. We need to insure health care for all Americans, whether by the government or by private efforts. So I challenge each and every one of you to work for the reform you support, and may the better man win.

Along those lines, kudos to the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, who has the sense to oppose an ideological test that would determine whether the Republican Party could support a candidate financially. The mean-spirited side of me cheers at anything that would weaken the Republican Party, and believe me, this proposal would. But let’s face it: at this moment in history, we don’t need another divisive battle about ideological purity.

Back to bipolar news. Apropos of a post on Mentally Interesting, No Spam writes, “Lack of control sucks to cuz even when I’m doing it I know I’m gonna regret it.. yeah I have that insight but it does me no good, it just makes me feel more guilty.” I know exactly what he means. Most people do. It sucks to know that you’re exercising poor judgment, and unfortunately mental illness often leaves the bipolar among us in that position.

I really like how Gretchen Rubin on The Happiness Project urges us to Underreact to a Problem, which, as you might expect, is the opposite of overreacting. Underreacting — that is, not throwing a fit to which you are perfectly entitled to — allows you to evaluate a situation calmly and and assign tasks instead of blame. I highly recommend this approach when others have made a mistake and gotten you into a fix.

Here’s an example: I used to see a gentleman who was as intrepid a hiker and climber as I am. On one particularly ridiculous occasion, we got his truck stuck in the mud in an isolated spot. We had, of course, been off-roading, although his truck did not have four-wheel drive.

Now, there was plenty of blame to go around. I had navigated us down a series of unpaved roads. He had accepted my suggestions. Neither of us had thought to turn back when it started raining, or to load boards and shovels into the bed of his truck (something we remembered to do roughly half of the time when rain threatened). As usual, one or both of us had behaved in a foolhardy fashion or forgotten some key element of preparation. This raised alluring opportunities for tears and recriminations of the “You never,” “You always,” and “You promised” variety. Neither of us indulged. Instead, we deliberately underreacted, treating each absurdity as an adventure, evaluating our resources, devising a plan, and implementing it briskly. I’m still proud of having taking that approach in that particular relationship, and I intend to behave similarly in the future.

One last thing: A series in The New York Times on errors in radiation therapy demonstrates two things. First, you absolutely must take responsibility for and control of your own medical treatment. At the same time, medical technology has become so complicated that even doctors and technicians can make life-threatening errors. I hate living with this sort of bind, but I’m not sure there’s any way to put an end to it.

Love to all.


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  1. Yes, I thought President Obama did well Wednesday. Now if the Democrats in Congress show some courage rather than pretending to be Republicans (actual Republicans are much better at being Republicans), they should be able to get something done with the large majority that remains to them. Or they can do as The Daily Show suggested they might, and adopt a dead possum as the official DNC logo. Having watched them for many years, I must say I would be pleasantly surprised to see them NOT adopt the dead possum logo. If anything is consistent about the modern Demo-leadership, it’s that many of them immediately begin apologizing profusely when they win, and dutifully step aside in advance when there’s the least prospect of losing. At the very least, the Democrats are tasked with mandating that private insurers act as honest merchants — if they take your money, they should have to provide the services promised in the contract, not retain the option to cancel your policy. Leaving things as-is would be the worst thing to do since tens of millions have already been priced out of the market, and many more will be in the next several years. Health care for serious conditions is something that almost nobody but the very, very rich can afford, so there needs to be a society-wide approach, not an approach based on empty rhetoric about individualism and absoluteness of “choice.” Dying is something we all do alone, as the saying goes–but being very sick makes you at least partly dependent on other people’s competence, wisdom, and generosity. Our health-care system should reflect that truth instead of atomizing us and pitting us against one another.

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