Friday, 14 August 2009

Overvalued wisdom

It sometimes seems to me that we’re surrounded by all sorts of sources of homespun philosophy aimed at teaching us a little wisdom. Sometimes a very little.

Nowhere is this more common than in Hollywood films. Usually the character is seen in close up and he makes some statement including the words ‘you know’ and ‘son’. I remember John Wayne in an otherwise totally unmemorable film decades ago saying ‘You know, son, your mother and I didn’t love each other when we got married. We liked each other. The love came later.’ Yeah, right. Liking is the basis for a successful marriage. Love plays no role in selecting a life partner, any more than factors such as lust and sex, which are so insignificant in life generally.

Much more recently, I remember our former and profoundly unlamented Prime Minister Tony Blair staring straight into camera and saying to us all, ‘I think I’m a pretty straight sort of guy.’ To me that just confirmed what I’ve long believed, my own piece of homespun wisdom: if you’re with anyone who feels the need to tell you how honest he is, check that your wallet is safe.

Recently I got to thinking about a piece of advice you tend to hear quite a lot, ‘live each day as though it were your last’. It sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? It seems to be saying ‘grasp the moment, live life to the fullest, don’t wait till tomorrow.’ Just the kind of intense and bold living that seems attractive to most of us.

But would it really be like that? If you actually knew that today was going to be your last?

The Roman novelist Petronius, when he learned that he had to choose between committing suicide or facing a much less pleasant death under Nero’s gentle direction, had his veins opened and sown up again. He then called his friends together for a party with music, fine food and entertaining conversation, in the course of which he drew up a new will including a full list of all Nero’s crimes and debaucheries. He then reopened his veins and died in an atmosphere of peace, surrounded by people who mattered to him and enjoying the prospect of Nero’s fury on reading the will.

I’d love to think I’d go that way too, perhaps taking out a large loan from a particularly loathsome bank (and picking just one wouldn't be easy) so that I could spend the money on a historic party in a glorious location. But I have a horrible suspicion that I would actually devote several hours to trying to track down my will, realising that it needs updating, finding a solicitor and preparing a new one. I’d then spend several hours phoning my immediate family, leaving urgent messages on their voicemail, phoning them back while they’re phoning me, getting the message that they won’t be available till later, and getting increasingly frustrated as the day wore on. I’d be phoning and e-mailing friends, constantly remembering someone else who I'd absolutely have to get hold of before the end. I’d still be desperately trying to finish things as midnight sounded and the axe fell.

And that’s the best case scenario. If you were really facing your last day, the chances are you’d either be doped up to your eyeballs in a hospital bed or sat in a prison cell sobbing your guts out.

What’s attractive about any of these scenarios?

Live each day as though it were your last? Personally, I’m going to treat that advice as just another piece of overvalued homespun to ignore. And go on living as I do now, as though no last day was ever going to happen.

Which, I suspect, is the comforting state of denial in which most of us live.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

Some of those wisdom nuggets can be fun though. Check out this one from my older, wiser, gay friend:

"All these people tell me they want to find someone to share their life with. I don't want to do that - it's mine! I want someone to double my life with."

I've been mindlessly repeating it to anybody who brings up the subject of relationships. I think it's brilliant.