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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2015

Boldly Going Nowhere

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Flow

William Shakespeare was a prolific writer who was mostly understood by snooty British intellectuals, high school English teachers and people with brain damage. Most of the rest of us who were forced to read his dribble back in high school didn't have a clue what Shakespeare was all about.

One of his more famous excerpts comes in Act 3 of Hamlet -- "To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune; or to take arms against a sea of troubles?"

This is all a person really needs to know about life. Unfortunately, reading Shakespeare is a lot like reading the graffiti on the wall of a public restroom -- it seems somewhat clever yet is often confusing, but you don't really care because you've got better things to do than hang around and try to figure it out.

What Shakespeare was really trying to tell the world was that there is a choice in life we all face. We can choose to go with the flow and suffer the consequences (suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune) or we can choose to go off in our own direction (take arms against a sea of trouble) and suffer the consequences. Your third option is not to make a choice, which automatically puts you into the category of going with the flow. In other words, you can go with the flow or go your own way. Either way, there will be consequences to suffer.

Most people choose to go with the flow. They elect people to lead them, obey the rules, pay their taxes and march off to war. They may not like it sometimes, but they go along in order to get along.

A few people go off in their own direction. Although often ridiculed by those who conform, they couldn't care less, and even when they're alone they're never lonely because they don't need to be validated by others.

Some people try to have it both ways. Most of the time they choose to go with the flow, until the flow takes them where they don't want to be, then they rebel a bit. But taking arms against a sea of trouble requires strength and fortitude, forcing them to get back into the flow when the going gets too tough.

People who choose to always go with the flow are happy people. Occasionally, they suffer the consequences of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but life is full of consequences and they don't blame themselves for their suffering because they were merely caught in the flow of the decision-making of others. Plus, the burden of making independent decisions is avoided because the flow makes all the decisions for them.

People who choose to always go in their own direction are also happy people. They face lots of obstacles for not conforming to the flow, but their suffering is of their own making and therefore more palatable. Independent people understand that suffering builds character, thereby making their way of life that much more endearing. Rather than allow the rest of the world to err on their behalf, they'd prefer to screw up their lives on their own.

Those who try to have it both ways are always an unhappy lot. They tend to align with others who also want it both ways, exerting group pressure by forming clubs and unions and political parties in order to manipulate the flow in their favor. But no matter how effective they are at altering the flow they're fighting an endless battle because there is always another group somewhere tugging at the flow in the opposite direction.

Flow tuggers have been battling flow tuggers since the beginning of time. They are convinced their way is the correct way and insist everyone else conform to their notion of correctness, right down to the correct length of grass in your front yard and the correct state of mind from which you are forbidden to alter. Flow tuggers are self-righteous, rebellious conformists who demand selfless, non-rebellious conformity from everyone else.

Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist and professional malcontent, once observed, "No two ideals were ever more incompatible than the security of conformity and the freedom of individuality. After the choice is made, the rest is easy -- unless you don't have the guts to stick by your choice."