Beautiful Bullshit

Can a nation’s morale be broken?

I typed this question in my Notes app on my phone February 20th. I’m apt to doing this when I’m walking, usually listening to a podcast. This is the most efficient method I’ve found for capturing thoughts. I slide my phone from my pocket and my two thumbs, like drummer’s sticks, do all the work. A sense of urgency overrides perfectionism. This is the only time grammar is granted a pass until later. I used to carry pen and paper in my backpack. But, by the time I slid the bag from my back and parted the zipper, searching for my pen and paper, the soundbite had already disappeared, like a slippery little silverfish scurrying snakelike on its six stubbly legs, into the blackened recess underneath the refrigerator humming in the kitchen, never to be seen again, let alone wilfully detained. Yes, it happens that quick: This total loss of words. It’s a short leash between the dog and its handler. Transcribing thoughts, before the collar is slipped like a wanton noose, is tricky. I can only assume this question, about a nation’s morale, was asked in a podcast episode in regards to the situation in the Ukraine. In my notes, I added another question below it.

Can a person’s? 

Yesterday, I listened to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. He interviewed Morgan Housel, who writes a blog on the Collaborative Fund. On the podcast, Morgan referenced an entry from May, 2021 called The Optimal Amount of Hassle. He said, “A unique skill, an underrated skill, is identifying the optimal amount of hassle and nonsense you should put up with to get ahead while getting along.” I think most people accept “hassle” as an uncomfortable feature, or by-product of life, such as waiting in line to board a plane; commuting an hour to work; punching a million passcodes on your keyboard to access your own network, god forbid you forget one of them, or inverse the digits, inevitably locking yourself out, creating a whole other set of challenges; or the likelihood of the hot water heater breaking in your home at the start of winter. These are the challenges we choose to accept in order to live the life we envision. It’s the price of admission we pay in order to get something better on the other side. 

But there is a difference between a fee and a fine. Morgan argues in his book, The Psychology of Money, that viewing these “pain points” as fees versus a fine will lessen the friction we feel experiencing them. He said [on the TF podcast], “If we accept the volatility of investing or the volatility of a career, as a fee and not a fine, then it becomes a little more palatable….Good advice for a lot of things is just, ‘Identify the price and be willing to pay it.’ The price, for so many things, is putting up with an optimal amount of hassle.”

I put ‘hassle’ in the same category as ‘inconvenience,’ as opposed to a ‘problem,’ which is a whole other bailiwick. My understanding of the differences was fine-tuned in my days as a professional equestrian. An inconvenience is solved by money, whereas a problem does not have that solution. An inconvenience is a car wreck. A problem is a passenger dying as a result. An inconvenience is your horse having colic surgery. A problem is not having the resources to cover the cost of colic surgery, limiting the sick horse to euthanasia instead. Inconveniences are the little hiccups in plans, solved with money. Problems are resolved, rather than solved, with fines, paid in blood, time, or both, all of which is infinitely more valuable, and expensive, than money. 

So when does the price (fee) of admission become a penalty (fine)?  When does an inconvenience turn into a problem? When does a petty annoyance (hassle) cross over into total overwhelm? Pressure leaves a mark, long after the pressure is gone. How much can a person take before it becomes too much? How much should they? A dog that is tied to a tree for too long: Does it forget how to be a dog? Do its legs forget how to run? Does the dog forget the river is for quenching its thirst, the thick mud enveloping its feet, the welcoming price of admission? Or, does a lifetime of creativity ignored eventually extinguish it, like a kerosene lantern, never to be restored, or an athlete’s legs tied, forever impervious to running full tilt and licking the heels of freedom?

Can a nation’s morale be broken?

Can a person’s?

The other day, in one of his diatribes, my eighty-six year old father said, “I can spot a con artist ten feet away. Their beautiful bullshit. Nothing worse than a con artist. And we have a few…” I had already heard this slandering monologue before. I knew what he was talking about; who he was talking about. I didn’t ask questions. I was too hung up on his one sentence, a sliver of poetic wisdom wedged between barbs of slur. Their beautiful bullshit. 

Beautiful bullshit is the flickering moment that lies between the fee and the fine, the inconvenience and the problem, the annoyance and the overwhelm. But it’s fleeting. Just like the little silverfish darting into the darkness. Racing after it repeatedly, the daily pressure to capture it; tame it; commandeer it; leaves its marks. But when does it break us, our morale? If it never does, is it because we aren’t trying hard enough? Or because we don’t have to? I don’t have the answer. I’m still searching for my own beautiful bullshit.

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