Sunday, August 18, 2013

Best Laid Plans (segueing into Happiness)

As long as I am rolling with the cliches, I'll quickly add a post on the topic of how the best laid plans (come to naught).  Or better yet: Man plans; God laughs.  There is actually a novel on Canadian politics by the title The Best Laid Plans (by Terry Fallis).  I haven't read this or his related novels, but will try to get around to it in the next couple of years (certainly before taking any citizenship tests!).

It goes without saying that it is very hard for most of us to bend life to our will and have things come out exactly as planned.  It may even be more true that even when we get what we thought we wanted, it isn't really quite what we expected, which may lead to even more dissatisfaction.  Not everyone is this sour or jaded, of course, and they have a much more positive outlook on life.  When I step back, I find that I had a decent run, but in general my expectations of life (and of other people) are really too high.

Nonetheless, I often am able to follow through on my plans at least in their basic outlines; certainly more than many people I know.  But the details may not be ideal.  So for instance, we move to escape an increasingly difficult housing situation, then within a few months I've got a new job offer requiring me to move to Europe!  This time around, I have been able to extend our current lease so that we shouldn't have to move twice in a year, but I have a vague feeling that to get the job I really want, I will have to take the job next spring rather than next summer, and that will entail some hard decisions (either living apart from the family for a few months or uprooting the kids before school is out).  This has actually led me to think twice and three times about subscribing to various concert or theatre packages, since I don't want to have to try to cancel or give away tickets that I have paid for.

I also had some tentative plans to take the kids a few places before we left the region, but it looks like my daughter really does suffer a bit from motion sickness, and suddenly I don't think I want to plan a trip to Banff -- and certainly not a drive through the Rockies.  Traveling to Portland is probably out unless we can work it out through the kind of tricky train schedule.  I imagine in another couple of years, she will either be over this or at least will have the self-knowledge that would allow us to work around it, but I think I will have to revise my plans a bit (actually my wife was leaning towards travel to Toronto over spring break anyway so she could really get a handle on the different neighbourhoods there, and now I will be less resistant to this idea).

The underlying reason for the move to Toronto is that if we move before the kids have really settled into school and long(er)-lasting friendships, we won't have to move later when that is harder.  But this assumes that I hold onto a job for more than 5 years (usually I max out at about 5 years, though there have always been extenuating circumstances) and that the family adapts fairly well to Toronto (or for that matter if Canada Immigration doesn't throw me for a complete loop).  In my mind it is the right move, but planning too far ahead carries with it a number of pitfalls.

Actually I saw an interesting exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center last week.  The artwork was poor, but that wasn't the point.  It was essentially a conceptual show about happiness.  In fact, it was called Stefan Sagmeister: The Happy Show.  This has toured various other small museums including ICA in Philadelphia and MOCA in Los Angeles.  Some of the research that made its way into the show I had heard of before, including that married parents with young children are among the unhappiest of all married couples, though they are even more unhappy with teenage children!  It isn't until children start leaving the nest that happiness returns.  Perhaps if more people acknowledged this rather than pretend that family life is the be-all and end-all, they would be somewhat more content with their lives.  (At least Sagmeister seems to think so. He also points out that mostly married people are happier than singles, with the possible exception of gay males before the AIDS crisis.)

He also has some interesting ideas about breaking up one's retirement years so take mini-sabbaticals throughout ones working life but then to work longer.  (This used to be one of the best things about being a professor, though my understanding is that it is harder and harder to come by in the contemporary, corporate-leaning university.)  He also says that being too rigid about making and sticking to plans is unhealthy.  Having a vision is fine, but then some flexibility is necessary.  This is something I do need to take to heart.

Finally, he displayed some great big inflatable monkeys with the message that "Everybody thinks they are right."  Most conflict arises not because we cannot understand that others hold different views from ourselves, but that we don't believe that other views are legitimate.  The more strongly held the views, the less likely we are to admit that others can differ from us (since obviously at most one party can be "right").  I would say I have gotten somewhat better in this over the years, though on narrow technical grounds (at work for example), I have a lot of trouble ceding ground to others.

I also tend to be kind of rigid about how I expect people to behave in public.  I really don't like Millennials that violate this -- particularly those who get in my way by not getting off escalators in time or who walk super-slow on the sidewalk because they are so absorbed by their phones.  I find this rude and I genuinely enjoy it when they stumble around or fall over due to their own lack of awareness of their surroundings and their general self-absorption.  Perhaps tellingly, I had my second-to-last lunch in Chicago somewhat spoiled by 4 Millennials who were trying to come into the restaurant at the exact same time I was leaving.  In the end we sort of squeezed past each other, and we all acted a bit dickish.  I overheard them say, Boy he was in a hurry.  From my perspective, first the people leaving a restaurant to get back to work do have the higher priority, and more to the point, I would never expect one person to have to wait for four people to go through a door.  It is just far more efficient to let that person through first (to say nothing of how rude it is to make one person wait for four).  I have no idea what they were thinking, other than they were hungry and perhaps that gave them the higher priority (or that they were a group that could not be split up -- like a funeral procession or the knobs involved in Critical Mass*).

Anyway, we all thought we were in the right and all of us ended up a bit more unhappy from the interaction.  (There was actually a door at Metrotown in the parking garage that ended up with a similar problem of too many people trying to get through in both directions and then more often than not you were left feeling that others were simply rude.)  Just in general, my feeling is that life very very frequently throws up situations that are essentially zero-game solutions where somebody is in fact worse off (this doesn't have to be materially -- it can simply be mentally/spiritually).  Thus, it should not be a surprise that I don't get along that well with all those folks who think that most things in life can be reformulated as win-win (or win-win-win) situations.  I just don't believe that is the case most of the time.  Sociologically, I am very much from the conflict school of thought.

* Certainly CM is a social phenomena that I absolutely despise because of how they claim priority over everyone, including pedestrians and people trying to get onto and use transit; they don't just inconvenience drivers (not that I think drivers should have to wait five or six light signal cycles either...).  I don't know how big the rides are in Toronto, but they seem fairly restrained in Vancouver.  The CM rides are definitely out of hand in San Francisco and Chicago.  I generally have murderous thoughts when these wankers come anywhere near me, and I just have to think that at this point they are setting back any possibility of a pro-bike agenda in the cities where the rides occur.  Frankly, if I were mayor I would probably criminalize mass CM rides and generally break it down so that it never got over 100 cyclists, which would be more or less manageable.

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