Our Own Advice
Sometimes I wonder what our lives would be like if we took all of the great advice we give to others. Would we let more things go, get more sleep, drink less caffeine, and go for more walks in nature? Probably. Those are just a few of the ways I’ve wondered recently if some of the lives around me might improve. They’re sound suggestions, but they also are what I’d call suggestions to people who have a relatively OK, suffering-free existence.
There is a famous sketch from a comedy show in the 90s featuring the hugely talented Bob Newhart. In it he plays a famous psychologist who only charges five dollars for his services. Clients sit down, he explains that the therapy is a one-time, non-refundable kind of therapy. And when they pay him and say that they understand, he asks them to tell him their problems, compulsions, or worries. Then, in only the way Bob Newhart can deliver a line, he says, “Stop it.” The clients seem confused and look around wondering what’s going on. And Bob just sticks to his advice for any worry, care, or concern: “Stop it.”
The very fact that this is a comedy sketch underscores that he is not being entirely serious. I wouldn’t stretch his advice very far into all of the real ways that people suffer in this life and have legitimate fears about a life to live. There are countless things in our lives we can’t stop from happening. With all good comedy, though, there is an element (if not a core) of truth. The advice from Bob reduces some of the activities I know many humans worry about (checking the news on our phones, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet, thinking of past wrongs) to a binary choice: stop it or don’t.
This weekend’s Jubilee Anti-Racism training brought a lot up for its attendees. Some of the people who attended were hopeful of a set of activities or things to do after learning so much about how so much of a society is built on structures and institutions that perpetuate a dangerous status quo. These are the exact kinds of systemic problems that may be impervious to Bob’s advice. Looking at an entire society hurtling down tracks laid long ago and wondering how to stop it can be a hugely defeating, helpless feeling. None of us needs any more of those in our lives.
Binary situations are also helpful at times, though. They are a quick way to check in on what we are doing, even in small ways. When I’m making choices throughout a day, I can ask, “Does this choice perpetuate a systematic problem or does it stop it?” I’m guessing there are plenty of choices we make in a day that will not really have an answer to this question, but that’s OK. It is only in the examination of our choices, it is only by our willingness to take a deeper look, it is only by taking what may seem like comically simple advice, that we might address the elements of these systems and structures, if not their core. It might be the only way to stop it.
May it ever be so,
Rev. T. J.