Pascal said something to the effect that all of our miseries stem from our not being able to remain quietly in a room. I’ve always assumed that he meant in a room alone with ourselves, but lately I’ve begun to extend this concept in an unified effort to explain some seemingly unrelated phenomena and personal experiences. Such as…why John Kerry and John Edwards did so well in the Iowa caucuses…why I can’t stand going to meetings of Sustainable Fairview Associates…why Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson hit it off, eventually, in “Somethings Gotta Give.”
Why? Because misery also is remaining in a room with somebody, or a bunch of somebodies, that you aren’t comfortable being in the room with—quietly or otherwise. Now, I’ll readily admit that if we were able to attain to a true Buddha-like state of detachment and inner peace, which perhaps is what the Pascal quote points toward, then we’d be able to handle remaining in a room with anybody, no matter how they acted. But few of us can do that, so we understandably gravitate toward those who make us feel comfortable while we are with them, rather than uncomfortable.
So I wasn’t surprised to turn on CNN last night, after we got back from seeing “Somethings Gotta Give,” and learning that Kerry and Edwards had done much better in Iowa than was expected a short time ago. Watching Kerry give his “I won!” speech (a rather long speech), and, later, seeing Ted Koppel interview Edwards on “Nightline,” I felt that these were two men I’d be happy to be in a room with for quite a while—especially Edwards, who has a most appealing manner about him.
Howard Dean, on the other hand, doesn’t do much for me. I generally like what he has to say, but I don’t like how he says it, and I don’t like how he looks while he is saying it. Since other people seem to share my response, I believe he is ultimately doomed as a presidential candidate, because we want our President to be someone we feel comfortable with. Even though we aren’t going to be spending time with the President personally, we spend a lot of time with him via the media.
So if we feel uncomfortable with him, even while he is explaining how his policies are eventually going to make us feel more comfortable, this basic contradiction (feel bad now so you will feel good later) makes an unpersonable candidate unelectable. And Dean is just that, I predict. His underlying anger, negativity, big ego, and intensity aren’t appealing. I want him to say what he has to say, and then get off of my television screen, not a good sign for a Presidential candidate. Edwards, on the other hand, is much more positive, and this piece ascribes his rise in the race to just that—his positive message.
Somewhat similarly, I didn’t go to a recent meeting of Sustainable Fairview Associates (SFA), the company that we’ve invested some money in which is trying (with decidedly mixed success) to develop the old Fairview Training Center property into a sustainable community. I didn’t go because the management of SFA has no clue about what good management is all about, or how to communicate effectively, or how to foster a compelling vision that makes people want to work hard to make the vision a reality. In short, when I’ve gone to meetings in the past, after a short time I start thinking: “Good god, this is awful. How soon am I going to be able to escape from this room and get back to the Pleasant Real World?”
Sure, I’ll admit that most business meetings aren’t fun and games. But an organization committed to sustainability should have higher aspirations. After all, if it can’t sustain the enthusiasm of those most devoted to the cause of sustainable development, how can it call itself Sustainable Fairview Associates? Sustainability, as I’ve noted before, isn’t just about solar collectors and other technological innovations. It is about a whole new way of relating to the world, and other people. If Hitler had powered his death camps with hydrogen fuel cells, this wouldn’t have made them sustainable enterprises. So it boggles my mind when SFA management fails to understand that acting imperiously or underhandedly, supposedly in the name of “sustainability,” strikes at the heart of what a sustainable development should be all about.
Lastly, we both enjoyed “Somethings Gotta Give,” though it was a shock to realize that Diane Keaton no longer looks like the adorable woman I fell in love with when I first saw “Annie Hall.” Of course, I no longer look like the Brian of back then either. But the difference is that my face isn’t up on a giant screen, where every wrinkle is clearly visible. She and Jack Nicholson were great in their roles, and so was the screenwriter’s exploration of the older man/much younger woman, older woman/much younger man dynamics.
On the remaining-in-the-room front, a turning point in the movie is when Nicholson returns to Keaton’s bed to spend the night—after first revealing that, when he is with his stable of young sex partners, he always sends them home, after the deed is done. Thus their relationship is founded on the ability to remain quietly in a room with each other, not just, um, unquietly being together, if you get what I mean. Isn’t this what love, as opposed to lust, is all about? Democrats have been lusting after Howard Dean, but I don’t think he is going to turn out to be a lovable candidate, because he isn’t someone you want to spend a lot of time in a room with.