We are all running rackets. Well, maybe not the purest among us. I don’t know any of those people. The rest of us are fooling ourselves a fair amount of the time. We are most certainly fooling others. And as we get older, I think the rackets gets wobblier. Because living with lies — even teensy little pale white ones scattered through life like dandruff particles — begins to feel... unseemly.
What exactly do I mean by rackets?
The big ones are obvious. If you are habitually a mean person who acts sweetly solicitous with most people while raging like a bull at home, that’s a racket.
It’s also a racket to pretend to be concerned about the planet while consuming great gobs of single-use plastic or dumping used paint thinner in the public sewer because you can't be bothered driving it to the waste facility.
Posing is a racket. Most of us pose a fair bit. We like to appear as people who others can admire. Social media drives this tendency into orbit. The Facebook or Instagram you (not me because I just can’t bear the thought) is you the way you want to appear. No blemishes. No crabby, carping complaining. No dirty laundry. Just the shiny, happy, enviable parts of you. Social media is the racket of omission.
All the Little Rackets
I want to talk about the little rackets, because they are the easiest ones to clean up if you are thinking, like me, about this kind of personal hygiene in the final third of life — parts of ourselves we can finally clean up to feel better about ourselves. A few examples:
— Taking people and good fortune for granted
— Losing our tempers
— Thoughtless rudeness
— Any form of selfishness beyond taking basic care of ourselves
— Unexamined self-centredness (or worse, narcissism)
— Lack of empathy
— Lack of trying (could be called laziness)
— Flabby excuses devoid of veracity (truth)
— Immoderate entitlement
Lying sounds so dramatic doesn’t it? Most of us would not consider ourselves liars. And we abhor overt lying because, along with being unseemly, it breaks trust. We all know that we can’t trust a liar. And if we can’t trust someone, they can never be our friend, assuming friendship is based on trust, which it is. True friends revealed as liars are no longer true friends. Lies carry a huge cost.
And to be trustworthy to ourselves, we can’t lie to ourselves. Which means that eventually we have to clean up our little rackets, because they are the lies that we tell ourselves are harmless.
The Hygiene of Truth Telling
These days, I’m continually trying elevate my inner truth-telling hygiene because I figure that self-delusion, even by the tiniest degree, is eroding, and erosion is the last thing I want during this one-last-big-chance stage of life.
I’m not talking about honesty in my relationships. That's easy. I decided years ago that there would be no lying, period. It’s law. A core belief. It pays off in trust and strong bonds. It's a small investment with a large return that compounds over time. A no-brainer. All children should learn, indelibly, the vital importance of honesty, right alongside kindness and tooth brushing.
The little rackets are another matter. They are like termites. They hide from us while destabilizing our structural integrity. They are untruths we live with because we don't look for them, or we tell ourselves that they are harmless. We know better. But we have assigned the little lies to a kind of purgatory where they float in a pool of uneasiness that we mostly ignore because it’s underground, away from the light of clear-eyed self-examination.
Some of it is ego. Some of it is insecurity. Some of it is weakness. Most of it is telling conveniently shady stories to ourselves that we believe, in the hope that they will eventually take on the appearance of truth. That's called wishful thinking.
But as Stanley Kubrick apparently said, "The truth of a thing is in the feel of it, not in the think of it.”
When Earnest Gets Unclean
My god, I’ve told so many shady little thinking stories to myself over the years. Haven't we all? And often with such earnestness. Earnestness implies that the little rackets haven’t yet quite ripened into lies. That happens when we know the truth and keep telling ourselves the same story anyway.
— “There’s nothing I can do about that.”
— “It’s not my fault. It’s because…”
— “It doesn’t really matter.”
— “In the scheme of things, that’s so inconsequential.”
— “No one will care.”
— "It’s okay not to care."
— “Everybody does it.”
— “I’m better than that person because…”
— “I’m not like that.”
— "I can't live without that."
— "I deserve that."
— "My job is my life."
— “We all have to die somehow, so what the hell.”
The Seduction of Bacon
That brings me to bacon.
This post was ignited by an article I read in The Guardian last year entitled “Yes, bacon really is killing us.” Here's the eye-catching graphic:
An admission: I’ve spent most of my life in love with bacon. It dramatically improves almost everything. Salads. Hamburgers. Toasted peanut butter sandwiches. On my 60th birthday, in Austin, Texas, I celebrated by breakfasting on The Flying Pig, a plate-sized, freshly made maple-glazed doughnut topped with bacon. A true heart-stopper.
So seductive are the taste and aroma of bacon that it is notorious for converting vegetarians with only a whiff. I personally know two who have lapsed in just that way. After years of eschewing meat, they smelled bacon, ate some, and never looked back.
But bacon, as we all know, is a huge racket. The pork industry is running a racket because they cause tremendous pain to untold millions of pigs, and their product provably increases your chance of getting cancer. Bacon eaters are running smaller, personal rackets, because bacon tastes so good that we drop its industrialized cruelty and carcinogenic tendencies into the underground pool of hidden uneasiness (denial), then further submerge them with this resolute justification: “I don’t eat it that much. But I won’t give up my bacon.”
In 2015, the World Heath Organization, after consulting with 22 cancer experts from 10 countries who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat that included epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people, concluded that processed meats, bacon high among them, are incontrovertibly carcinogenic, right up there with alcohol, asbestos, and tobacco. The nitrates and nitrites used to cure bacon can kill us.
Stated so bluntly, that was big news. For a while. Then not. And in England over the intervening three years, bacon sales have only nudged upward. The racket rolls on.
Our Rackets Come to Roost
My apologies to bacon lovers. This isn’t a lecture on your diet. It’s an analogous scratching of my head, and a sober look at my own little rackets. Because time goes on. And when you get to my age — and many of you are my age — there’s a sense that all the little rackets have been going on for so long that surely they are bound to roost eventually, if they haven't already.
And then what?
If bacon finally mutates cells in your bowel, then “I won’t give up my bacon” will suddenly lose its steam and show its hollow core.
That’s grim, I know. But if bacon is, indeed, really killing us, when do we tell ourselves the truth and back away, voting for our lives over yumminess?
And when it comes to all the other little bacon-like rackets, when do we clean out the underground pool?
Lightening Your Load
Mostly retired and more reflective these days, and thus aiming a little higher, I’ve started on some serious racket removal. Not with sanctimony, or better-than-thou-ness. No broadcasting (except here, thank you) because no one likes a noisy racket remover.
Although I have many rackets to tackle, I consider myself comparatively racket-free. (Ha! There's one now.)
Removing your rackets is like losing weight. It's a way to lighten your load. To scrape off the barnacles of bullshit most of us carry.
Here's how you begin: With open eyes, look for rackets in places you might not have looked before — in the boast box, for example, or the closet of pomposity, or the drawer where the snobbishness is kept. Pick one. Practice doing without it. Make its opposite your new habit. Then keep going. Keep practicing.
Racket removal feels so good it’s almost like bacon: you only need a taste to want more.
Here's a racket many of us run with a large dollop of sanctimony attached. I just read an article entitled, "Stop Reclining Your Seat on Airplanes," in Outside magazine (online). A bold writer named Abbey Gingras finally said what has so long needed to be said: we are not actually entitled to recline our seats on an aircraft if it makes the person behind us uncomfortable. As a species, we have grown bigger while the seats have grown smaller and the legroom more constricted. On long flights, sure, recline, carefully. On shorter flights, you are running a racket, writes Abbey, because of this:
The thing is, you know you suck when you hit that recline button, but just in case you truly are ignorant, hear this: your actions have direct consequences for the people around you—any space you take is taken from someone else. The person behind you deserves the same respect you give the person in front of and beside you by not kicking their seat or elbowing them over the armrest. Meanwhile, what do you have against your spine? It’s begging you to sit up straight for once.