Archive for March, 2014


In TV and movies and Facebook posts you often hear people declare a certain day to be the happiest day of their life.

I think that’s a deeply depressing concept, and a terrible way to thing about life.

First of all, what are the odds that you’re right? Life is long. It’s the longest thing you’ll ever do. On average, between the day you’re born and the day you die, you’ll experience close to 30,000 days. Since only one of those days can be the “best” day, working off straight probability there’s a 99.997% chance that you’re wrong. The odds are less lopsided if you can exclude all previous days which the present day is superior to, but even still you’re more likely to be wrong than right. And that’s a little sad, because it means that years from now when you have an even happier day, you will look back on your present happiness and view it as trivial in the face of your new found happiness.  It means that you will look back at yourself and blush with embarrassment at your own naivety. “How could I ever have thought that would be the happiest day of my life?”, you’ll say.

And that’s a little depressing, sure. But it’s nothing compared to the other possibility:

What if you are right?

Imagine tapping a grinning bride on the shoulder after she’s just declared this day to be the best of her life. “You’re absolutely right. Indeed, you will spend your remaining 18794  days on this planet seeking the lofty heights that you have reached today, and you will fail 18794 times. Once this day concludes, you will never experience this level of elation again so long as you live.”

You can imagine the results.

 

It’s always dangerous to use superlatives, and especially so when it comes to your own life. There are good days, and there are better days, but once you start throwing the word “best” around, you get into dangerous territory.

Unless you’re really careful and add the words “so far”.

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Asses By Association

Time to get philosophical.

Let’s say that a certain person – let’s call them “X” – is an ass.

X could be an ass for any number of reasons. Maybe X kicks puppies. Maybe X doesn’t tip. Maybe X is just a generally mean-spirited human being. You can assign X whatever attributes you normally associate with asses. The bottom line is that you’ve studied X long enough to conclude that he or she is most certainly an ass.

Now let’s say another person comes along. Let’s call them “Y”.

You know virtually nothing about Y. You don’t know his or her origins, interests, hobbies, or level of education. You don’t even know his or her gender.

The only thing you know about Y is that he or she spends a lot of time hanging around X. They seem to get along quite well.

The question is: Based on this knowledge, and this knowledge alone, how safely can you conclude that Y is also an ass?

Let’s take it one step further. Suppose a third person, Z, comes along. You know nothing about Z, except for the fact that he or she spends a lot of time hanging around Y. They seem to get along quite well. But you’ve never seen X and Z have any sort of interaction. can you safely conclude that Z is an ass?

I think the answer here has to be no, because if the answer is yes it means that person A, who hangs out with person Z is an ass. And person B, who hangs out with person A is an ass. And C is an ass. And D is an ass. And E, F, G, and H. And taken to its logical conclusion, every single human being on the planet. is an ass. And while that theory is appealing, I don’t think it’s correct.

Going the other way, it’s also appealing to conclude that everyone is their own person, and that you can’t judge people at all by their associations. But I don’t think that’s right either.

As with most things, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle: People who hang out with asses are just more likely be asses than people who do not hang out with asses. But this begs a couple of questions: How much more likely? And how many degrees of separation are we willing to accept before the connection with the initial ass becomes too tenuous?

And perhaps being an ass isn’t a matter of black or white. Perhaps asses ought to be assessed on a spectrum. Maybe that’s it.

Maybe “assness” works a little like radioactive decay, and has a half-life of one degree of separation. In the above example, person X is 100% ass, person Y is 50% ass, person Z is 25% ass, and so on down the line. Beyond one degree of separation, assness drops to a level where it is no longer that person’s defining characteristic.

Obviously, no one exists in a vacuum. People hang out with more than just one person at a time. But does that change anything? People are influenced by those who surround them, for better or worse. If someone chooses to surround himself with more asses than non-asses, aren’t they likely to be at least something of an ass?

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That all sounds very silly. And yet… the world does work a little bit like that, doesn’t it?

Think about it.

Judging people by the company they keep is a practice that goes back literally thousands of years. We all do it, often subconsciously. When you see someone you’ve never met hanging out with a person you really don’t like, your opinion of that person drops, doesn’t it? If you see someone hanging out with the class bully, you don’t stay neutral towards that person. Consciously or subconsciously, you judge them for it. Perhaps it’s a good thing, perhaps not. But we all do it.

So be careful about who you choose to associate yourself with, just as you’re careful about how you speak and behave around other people; at any given point in time, someone is judging you for who you’re standing beside.

Birthday #23

It’s pretty well documented that I don’t like my own birthday much.

Some people do their best anyhow. Take Floor 12’s efforts three years ago, for example. And when people put an effort in, they usually succeed in getting me to change my mind about my birthday, at least temporarily.

And then you’ve got my family’s efforts this year.

Look, I’ll defend my family to the grave, but sometimes even I can’t muster any defence for their actions.

The only reason I came home for my birthday this weekend is because my mom asked me to. Otherwise I’d have stayed in Kingston. But my mom wanted me to come home so that we could have a family celebration.

Well, the family celebration is currently in progress, and everyone’s watching the hockey game and screaming. Me, I’ve retreated to the basement for a bit because it’s annoying me and stressing me out. My dad doesn’t even watch hockey, but when my uncles are over he’s suddenly a diehard fan, yelling at the TV about biased officiating. And then there’s my ex-uncle, who arrived late wearing a Leafs jersey, shook my hand, and the plopped down on the couch to watch the game. My mom then attempted to round up the troops for cutting the cake, but she failed and ended up sitting on the couch too. That was the last straw for me. I had to get away before I said something rude. I’ve been here 20 minutes or so now, and no one’s even noticed.

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As soon as I typed that last sentence, my dad called me. Evidently he had looked around the room during a commercial break and noticed my absence. He then had a go at me for being anti-social. He claimed that everyone was there to see me, and that disappearing like that was rude.

It takes a lot to rile me up, but my dad very nearly accomplished the feat right there. I kept myself in check, albeit just barely. Through gritted teeth I pointed out that no one had said so much as a word to me for the last hour, and that I had absolutely no interest in watching the game. If people were in fact there to see me, it sure didn’t seem like it.

The game ended moments later when Montreal scored in overtime. From then on, things were better. Cookie-cake was eaten, presents were opened, and general merriment was had. Still, it was an exasperating evening. I love hockey as much as anyone, but I sure as hell wouldn’t watch a game during someone’s birthday celebration. To me, that’s just rude. The Flames played immediately after the Leafs’ game ended, but I didn’t watch any of it until after the guests left.

Was it rude of me to go off downstairs? Perhaps. But sometimes you just need to get away from people, and this was one of those times. And to call me anti-social is a little hypocritical when the only communication in that room was between people and the TV screen.

It wasn’t a complete disaster or anything, but a good chunk of the evening was stressful and frustrating, and those are two adjectives that I shouldn’t be using to describe my own birthday party.

That’s #23 in the books. Here’s hoping #24 is a better one.