Monday, February 15, 2010

An Adult View on Preference

Have you ever been to a meal where a three year old was making a scene about wanting to sit next to so-and-so, and insisting that everything be changed around to suit a preference which, to your adult eyes, seemed absurdly petty?

After much whining, seating arrangements are shifted to accommodate the child, who, basking in his power, starts lobbying for a special someone for his or her other side. Attempts are made to stave off the tantrum while the adults mill around uncomfortably. Finally, things settle down, and someone asks you where you'd like to sit.

You might, if you stopped to think about it, acknowledge that you do, in fact, have your preferences, and could, if you chose to go that route, insist on being accommodated. With effort, you might even be able to work yourself up into a lather about it. But, as a sane grown-up, you see that it just really doesn't matter. So you tell your host, with an amiable twinkle, you'd be perfectly happy to sit wherever works best. And though you may harbor stillborn preference, you mean it. You can make do. It doesn't matter. Let's just get on with it!

All issues of preference are like this. One can easily dredge up - and even dramatize! - a preference when the situation demands it (after driving fifty miles with friends to a shuttered restaurant, equanimity would only freak the others out). But, really, amid all the childish Sturm und Drang in a world where petty, arbitrary predilections are grasped for with utter tenacity - and little lasting satisfaction - it seems impossible to escape the conclusion that, really, it hardly matters, one way or the other. We live in a world full of three-year-olds of all ages desperately needing to eat dinner next to Aunt Thelma.

Preference is inherently petty and arbitrary. And it's also irrelevant. The real zest of life is not in frantically scrambling to get - and keep - your ducks in a row. It's in relishing the experience of playing the hand you're dealt, remaining gleefully fluid as the hand constantly changes. Fretting about the cards is an indulgent - and futile - waste of energy.

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