Monday, July 8, 2013

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart

I bought this book by Gordon Livingston on a whim. I'm always on the lookout for wisdom, and I thought there might be some in here. The book has the kindness to be well-organized (30 simple principles) and brief. Clearly, Doctor Livingston has seen some things in his life -- he's an MD and a psychiatrist, and he's lost two children -- one to illness, one to suicide, which is unthinkable for anyone, much less someone trained to save lives. In short, if anyone has had reason to come up with coping wisdom, it's this guy. The wisdom tends to be oriented toward older folks "The problems of the elderly are frequently serious but seldom interesting," but there is good advice for everyone here, I think. Some is richer, some is more diluted, but at no point did I regret reading it.

The deepest insight I personally took away was from #28: "Of all the forms of courage, the ability to laugh is the most profoundly therapeutic." I didn't expect much from this chapter -- I think we all understand that laughter is therapeutic. But that wasn't the focus -- the focus was on how all laughter is a form of courage. I'll be thinking about his wise words for a long time... I may get a tattoo:
Above all, to tolerate the uncertainty we must feel in the face of the large questions of existence requires that we cultivate an ability to experience moments of pleasure. In this sense all humor is "gallows humor," laughter in the face of death...We usually smile when we meet people for the first time. When we do so we are conveying more than friendliness. Smiling is an indication of "good humor," and represents an acknowledgment of the joke embedded in our common humanity: Things may be grave but they need not be serious. 

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