Why So Serious?

I’m a lawyer. I recently tried a case in which my relationship with the judge was, to put it mildly, contentious. During a break in the proceedings, the judge told me not to be “so grim,” because what we were doing was not “that serious.”  Of course, that was wrong. It was certainly serious for my client who was paying me. In the words of attorney Brendan Sullivan during the Iran-Contra hearings, I am not paid to be a “potted plant.”

Why so serious? It’s a serious world, my friends.

I suppose there are degrees of seriousness. If I lost that case, which I did, my family would still love me, the sun would shine and all God’s children would still be happy. Those things–true as they may be–don’t mean that other things mean nothing. When the judge ruled against me, I shook everyone’s hand, thanked the judge and then retired to the stairwell with my client. We both then spewed a long string of unprintable obscenities.

Was it a serious situation?  Yes.  Was it the end of the world?  Of course not.  Seriousness isn’t an all or nothing proposition.  Things can be serious with being dire.  For example, one can be seriously ill without being terminal.  Likewise, if one is rarely ill, any illness may seem serious at the time.  It’s all matter of perspective.

As I get older, my peers have become more serious.  They huff and puff and pontificate about the state of the world.  They criticize young people.  They criticize old people,  They bemoan the decay of society.  In other words, they are adults, and they act like adults.  That’s what adults do, you know.  They peer over their reading glasses with brows knitted and offer their take on everything.  And all it’s all serious.  Make no mistake; there are serious things afoot in this world.

“Politics is not a game. It is an earnest business.” Winston Churchill

These being the High Holy Days of politics with the Presidential election looming, we spew forth about politics like Mount Vesuvius.  On social media, in particular, the opinions are many and varied, but fall into five broad groups:

  • Those on the left who despise everything and everyone on the right.
  • Those on the right who despise everything and everyone on the left.
  • Those who despise everyone. Period.
  • Those who despise all those who post about politics.
  • Those who despise all those who don’t post anything about politics.

Politics is all serious all the time, of course.  I have been told numerous times that this is the most important presidential election in history.  An astute friend of mine suggested that just maybe the 1860 election was more important, given that we actually owned other human beings at the time.  To most of my peers, that minor historical event pales in comparison to whatever is chapping their rumps right now.

The reason for this, of course, is that we’re all alive now and weren’t around in 1860.  Surely, slavery wasn’t as bad as Barack Obama being a Muslim or Mitt Romney a tax cheat or whatever ever other bizarre theory one might embrace.  Even more rational concerns like the economy, national and endless wars have to be worse than anything any other generation has faced.

It’s not all that grim, of course.  I support Mitt Romney, but I’ve heard a lot of funny jokes about him.  It’s okay to laugh.  If he loses, the republic will survive.  It will.  It also won’t mean that I’m a lesser person.  Plus, I live in a state that has almost no influence on the outcome of the election.  Lighten up.  Life remains good.

“That which doesn’t kill you usually succeeds on the second attempt.”  Mr. Crabs, SpongeBob Squarepants

Want to know about a serious time?  World War I.  It wasn’t a popular war.  You could be arrested for publicly criticizing the war effort.  It was The Great War.  The war to end all wars. Right.

It was also during the time of the Spanish Flu Epidemic.  So many people died of the flu that mass graves were dug in some cities to handle the dead–in the United States.  Stories were told of people starting to cough on trolley cars and bleeding out before they got across town.  Read the excellent book The Great Influenza by John Barry.  Serious stuff. They even had a catchy little poem for the Great Flu: There  was a little bug; It’s name was Enza; I opened the window; And influenza. I’m sure that it would be treated seriously if happened today, except we would waste out time trying to figure out which political party was to blame.  Be glad we don’t to deal with that stuff.

6,000,000 dead in 12 weeks. How would you like to wake up to this headline?

While it may be true that the great issues of the day must be sternly addressed, these aren’t the worst of times. Not by a long shot.  Read a history book.  There were a lot of times that really sucked.

“Old men declare war, but it is the youth who must fight and die.”  Herbert Hoover

Our country has been at war for 11 years now.  That’s some serious stuff, for sure.  It’s funny (not ha-ha funny) how people don’t talk much about that, except when someone wants to take credit for something good (which, by the way, rarely happens).  The United States entered World War II in December of 1941 and was done by August of 1945.  Even the Vietnam War didn’t last this long.

I suspect folks my age (50) don’t talk much about it because we don’t have much to say.  We are the No War Generation.  The draft ended before I turned 18.  Even if there were a draft, you could have avoided it if you were clever enough.  Even I had joined the military, the 1980’s was a decade of saber-rattling, not saber-drawing.

As a result, we don’t have a moral high ground from which to demand that young people go die for us.  We didn’t do it, why should they?  Of course, that ground isn’t so “high” for anyone, is it?  Have you ever noticed that folks who suggest that people go get killed rarely are at the same risk?  There’s also the sticky problem that we want them to die for Afghans or Iraqis.  It’s a messy, sad business.  We’d rather not talk about it.  The best can muster is “Support Our Troops” or “Pray for the Military” or other slogans that makes us feel better.

We take our wars seriously.

It’s good that we take great pains not to criticize our soldiers, even if we criticize our politicians. People dying is serious stuff, no matter the reason.  I suppose that some day we won’t kill each other over real estate, but that time isn’t upon us, yet.

“The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page has nothing but man’s failures.”  Earl Warren

Our sports are serious business, too.  When our teams win, we crow as though we actually played in the game. We are just slightly superior to those who cheer for the losers.  Wait…who am I kidding?  We’re VASTLY superior to those losers! We’ll post scathing insults on social media about opposing teams and their fans.  If our team loses, we’ll even insult our own team. Their losing has diminished our lives.  We are lesser human beings as a result.  I am as guilty as anyone with this.  I will be crestfallen because a bunch of men (or children) I’ve never met lose a game to a bunch of other strangers.  They’ve let me down, even though they don’t know I exist.  It all makes perfect sense to me.

Of course, there is the flip side of the sports fan coin is the sports-hater.  This person is the one who bemoans how seriously we fans take it.  Ironically, these folks take it just as seriously, but their seriousness is their hate of sports.  Usually, they are pseudo-intellectuals who are “above it all” and unable to understand knuckle-dragging sports nuts.  Here in Kentucky, they denigrate our state university for emphasizing sports, primarily basketball.  In their world, Kentucky–an impoverished state–would be an academic titan if only it would play intramural basketball.  I’ve never understood that argument and don’t care to.

My teams win and lose.  They aren’t my teams, of course.  It just seems that way.  When I feel the veins in my neck throbbing, I take a deep breath and say to myself:  “I have no influence over this.  Relax.”  Someday, that might just work.

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.
It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Thomas Jefferson

I think we can all agree that this Jefferson was some kind of nut.  Nothing is more serious than religion.  We’ve turned much of the world into a graveyard fighting over it.  We will revise history to make religion more important than it ever was.  I know people who will sternly lecture others that our country was founded by a group of Christians, based on Christianity and that the U.S. is a Christian nation.  No amount of historical fact will change that view.

Consider the following:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries

What is your reaction to that?  Who said such craziness?  The Congress of the United States. In a treaty with Tripoli adopted without debate.  In 1799.  Just reading that language will make some people go nuts.  Can you imagine Romney or Obama starting a speech with  “The United States is not–in any sense–founded on the Christian religion….”  Goodbye White House.  Hello, Kevlar jumpsuit.

People believe what they believe.  So do I.  If you’re a missionary, go ahead work on changing minds.  Otherwise, chill.  Life goes on.

My point, if I have one, is that religion is serious business.  Our own nation has been attacked by religious fanatics.  History has had crusades, ethnic cleansing and genocide all in the name of religion.  It’s serious stuff.  Don’t joke about it–unless you have a sense of humor.  Look at around at His creation. God has a sense of humor, too.

“One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important.”
Bertrand Russell
As lawyer, I belong to serious crowd. In fact, there may be no group which takes itself more seriously. Why? Lawyers aren’t the coolest crowd in town. Many–most?–of us reached a level of newfound coolness when we became lawyers. No more having your lunch money stolen or being stuffed in lockers.  It’s Revenge of the Nerds, devoid of all humor.

Typical future lawyers enjoying their undergraduate days.

This isn’t to say that our jobs aren’t important.  Our clients face jail, monetary loss (or gain) and other issues which are of great importance to them.  For those of us who are litigators, any case we have might be the most important legal problem our client will ever have.

Even though the issues we handle are important, we too often translate that to mean that we are important.  Each case is referendum on our skills and worth as humans.  Lawyers also pride themselves on working long, thankless hours.  Ask a lawyer if he or she is busy, and you’ll get a diatribe about it–whether it’s true or not.  It is little wonder that lawyers have high suicide rates.

Sometimes, I want to do this in court. I usually don’t do it. Usually.

We’re not all that important, of course.  If I quit my job today, someone else will represent my clients.  Life will go on.  The same is true of all jobs.  So, lighten up.

I conclude this, as is my wont, without making any particular point.  Life is not, as folks my age would have you believe, a grim trudge to the grave.  Life is good, as they say.  They know more than I do.  The only thing that really matters is what’s going on at the moment.  The rest of it either already happened or may not happen at all.

So, take it easy.  Seriously.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

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