Thursday, April 14, 2011

Death and Taxes

"In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except Death and Taxes" was Ben Franklin's version of a proverb that had a much older currency, and they are words to live by.

Reading the terrified wittering of the average British Newspaper, especially the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, one could be forgiven for thinking that the certainty of Death was immediate and very painful. Scare stories of a hundred different kinds are printed one after another in a litany of sickness and fear.

Yes, Death is inevitable, but it is not inevitable NOW. More to the point, while the extinction of life in one individual might be hard luck on that person, Life in general really does "go on". What we can learn from nature, and even from ourselves is that life is very resilient- it adapts to seemingly impossible situations, and often does so with humour and grace.

Thus the negative energy that seems to surround the British press, with fear and anger firmly to the fore, is not only an inaccurate view of life, it is actually counter productive. In the same way that Economists have famously predicted seven of the last three recessions, so most scare stories, even if true as far as they go, are often mitigated by a wide variety of other factors. Sometimes bad things happen, but sometimes they are averted or turn out not to be so bad anyway.

This is not an excuse for inaction or apathy.

In fact being socially engaged is one thing that we can do to retain our equilibrium, since it promotes a greater sense of control of our lives and improves our mood and mental health. Brits today are said to be less happy than they were in the 1950s, and this is not due to a lack of wealth- we are all pretty much as wealthy as we have ever been. It is to do with a sense of a lack of control over our own lives. We have become socially isolated, and yet although we know social engagement, in community groups, a political party, or a church, actively promotes well being, ever fewer of us are doing so.

More and more research shows that well being and mental health rests on a positive engagement with the community. Yet the sour negativity of the Press actively disengages people, especially from politics. Each time I visit the UK I see a country less socially cohesive, more resentful of its neighbours, less willing to behave altruistically. Fear of Paedophiles has isolated our children from general society; Health and Safety issues remove a needed- and often enjoyable- element of danger in our lives.

So, as we contemplate the limited time we are allowed as individuals, it would make us happier if we could improve our social environment. Possibly the best way to do that is to avoid reading the British Daily Mail: it is after all, quite literally, driving us mad.

Nothing is certain, and to live our lives with a sense of positive possibility is far more enjoyable than cringing from fears and scare stories that are quite often totally groundless.

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