rigid rules are for
small-minded, scaredy cats.
And so, for my Plan to Stop Sucking and Kick Ass I made a few rigid rules. For one, I’m giving up TV for a year. To me that means no video at all: no Netflix, no Hulu, no Daily Show, no porn, no random TED talks, no cute little YouTube toddler crying “Chah-lay, that really huht!”†
The great thing about rigid rules is that you know exactly when you are breaking them, and breaking them or coming close gives you the opportunity to examine how you feel in those moments. Life is full of ambiguity. A rigid rule removes it, at least around one distinct action.
Why I want to watch TV
During the first four weeks after climbing on the no-TV wagon I’ve fallen off thrice (Yay, I failed!) and teetered many times. In those fallings and teeterings I learned why I watch TV at all.
When I’m feeling anxious I want to change my mood. I’ve struggled with anxiety for years, and there have been times when I leaned on TV pretty hard. Watching something funny or captivating disrupts the anxiety and gives me some relief. During my recent divorce and move I watched TV all day long more than once to get some relief from the stress. It worked.
TV disrupts loneliness. I love being alone. I don’t like feeling lonely. A couple episodes of Weeds can body block loneliness when a beer and silent gaze out the back window cannot.
Sharing an experience feels like community. Breaking Bad was supposed to be great so I watched a few episodes. Now I can talk to my friends about it. Big deal.
I want to be inspired. About 5% of the stuff I watch actually inspires me.
I want to feel like I’m being inspired. About 50% of the stuff I watch feels inspiring, but really, it’s crap. The other 45% of the stuff I watch is super crap.
I want to laugh. Louis CK makes me laugh so hard snot flies. And he inspires me, too! He’s so very very good, you know. So is Jon Stewart. I’ll miss those guys this year.
I want to feel informed. This is malarkey. TV sucks at informing, but I’ve been tempted to think I will learn something important by watching a video. As far as TV goes, I subscribe to the argument Neil Postman presents in Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the role of TV, when TV is doing what it does best, is to devour meaning and degrade public discourse. TV isn’t doing what it does best when it informs or enlightens us. TED talks are bad TV. Louis CK is TV at its worst.
Rigid rules can help us understand fear
For the most part I believe rigid rules help us avoid our fears by putting walls around them.
What I’m proposing is that we set a few rigid rules to clearly mark the boundaries of our fears, and instead of using it to avoid what’s on the other side completely, observe our feelings as we approach and try not to step over that line.
I decided to quit TV completely because I have much better stuff to do with my attention, and in doing so I’ve also had to face my fears of loneliness and feeling left out. I also have to face my fear that if I focus on trying to do something BIG that REALLY matters to me, I’ll fail, nobody will care anyway, life will turn out to be meaningless, and that Louis CK will have gotten it right:
“You’re all gonna die. Then you’ll be dead for way longer than you’re alive; like, that’s mostly what you’re ever gonna be. You’re just dead people that didn’t die yet.”
Oy. Makes me crave a little Dr Who.
† I have two exceptions to the no-TV rule. One, I’m with someone who wants to watch TV, but then, the choice my daughter commonly gives me seems appropriate to offer, “Do you want to watch TV or interact?” And two, I need to watch TV for research. For example, it was important that I get the language and phonetics just right when referring to the YouTube toddler video so I did a little research on that one. Dang, it’s really cute. At the time of this post that video was ranked YouTube’s most watched, non-commercial video with almost twice as many views as the next most watched, non-commercial video. Feel informed?