9/06/2007

When I am King: Making Sense

When I am King...

Our senses will be bombarded with terrible smells, tastes, and sounds.

Our lives hold meaning only in selfish comparison with others. Am I happy? I don't know ... until I look at the guy next to me yelling into his phone, or the woman across from me sobbing out a tale about a pedicure gone wrong. Then I realize that, while I may not know whether I'm actually 'happy', I know for a fact that I'm happier than these two.

I used to work at a company that was located next to a plastics factory. Every afternoon I would return to my car, start it up, and then notice an overpowering smell of burning rubber. My first thought was always that something terrible was wrong with my car, something requiring an unaffordable repair. It wasn't a “new car" smell, but rather a “need a new car” smell. Then I would remember about the factory next door producing the odor and I would feel great relief that, once more, I had narrowly escaped certain defeat and my car would live to drive another day.

My car was neither worse nor better through this regular routine, but I felt much better about it through the comparison. Every single day.

Similarly, I enjoy hearing screaming kids on the plane - as long as they're not my screaming kids. It's not that I actually like the sound – I'd rather stick the airline pretzels in my ears and tamp them in with my drink's swizzle stick. But I do like knowing that it's not my kids screaming and that I don't have to do anything about this unsolvable situation.

Of course, people on the flight that don't have young children probably just hate it because they don't have a comparison point. For them, I'd suggest the pretzels-in-the-ear trick; it doesn't feel good, but it sure takes your mind off the screaming.

These comparisons occur intermittently in life, giving us reassurance that everything's OK, because it's not as bad as it could be:
  • You happen to smell the milk before taking a big gulp and realize that it shouldn't smell like vomit. You may feel nauseous from the smell, but you feel a lot better knowing that you didn't drink it.
  • You narrowly avoid getting into a major accident on the highway. You are no safer afterwards than you were before, but you feel much better than you did before accident didn't occur. Besides, that adrenaline is some kinda high, isn't it?
  • You wonder, every time you pass by a power outlet, what it would feel like to stick your tongue into the socket. It would hurt a lot - believe me. But you don't do it. And just knowing that you once again avoided this power trip gives you great comfort.

When I am King, I will create a system of nationwide sensory output devices that will flood our senses with terrible things: screams, odors, bad folk music – anything that causes discomfort. Through this constant reminder that things are probably better than they could be, we will all be a happier people.

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