Monday, September 21, 2009

Nanny State Reflections on Kicking a Habit

Of all the labels that one can apply to a modern liberal state, "Nanny State" is to me the most pejorative. Living as I do in a city that is run according to "Nanny State ideology, it affects me personally.

I am very much in favour of educating people to make healthy choices. I have smoked heavily and drank with greater regularity than is healthy . I have noted that my lungs are not the strongest and that my pancreas likes to go on vacation. As much as it galls me to be lectured by my mayor or a sanctimonious relative at a family reunion, I have scored some successes in my battle with bad habits. Following are some moments in which I found the inner strength to kick habits that were killing me. They are as follows.


When my wife was pregnant with our second child, I visited my parents for a weekend. My father was wheelchair bound after two strokes. In a quiet, earnest voice, he told me as follows.

"I have never smoked in my life. Maybe I got drunk two or three times by accident. I certainly didn't do it on purpose. Here I am at 57 years of age in a wheelchair. You smoke three packs a day, and you are 28 years old. You have half of my genes. Where will you be at my age?

I chain smoked the rest of that weekend. The night before I left I made a commitment to my father that I would quit smoking. Withdrawal was hell. I was miserable to live with. I almost got fired from my job. That was 24 years ago. I have been jettisoning bad habits as life's storms push me to the tipping point. I still struggle.


A few years ago, I went for a routine checkup. My doctor called me up personally and told be to proceed to the nearest hospital. My sugar was 657. The doctors were surprised that I was lucid and ambulatory. From the hospital I heard that two of my daughters were crying about me being in the hospital. Although I still struggle, I have the feeling that eating white flour, failing to test my sugar level and other acts of neglect are choosing transitory physical pleasures over enjoying a long life with my family. Family reunions really drive home to me that the people who are seated at the table are far more important than what is on it.


When I was in high school, I developed an enduring dislike for "weed fascists" who considered it their mission to talk as many classmates as possible into getting high. I am so sensitive to the stuff that even being in a room where it is being smoked makes me react to it. I don't like the stuff. Get over it. And while we are on the subject, I enjoy alcohol a lot less as I get older. someone once was trying to talk me into loading a cup up with vodka. I finally said "OK fill it up."
I held my cup out and at the last minute turned it up side down. The bottom of the cup had an indentation sufficient to hold a few drops of scotch.

This is my rule. I will decide for myself if and when I want a buzz. Back off if I say no. If you are so obnoxious that I need to chemically alter my mental state to be with you, I don't want to be around you.


I make small talk with smokers. Quite a few people tell me they smoke less than 5 cigarettes a day. I always tell them to smoke one for me. I like the smell of tobacco. I enjoyed smoking. I had to give it up. I believe that there is a smoker's personality. Even ex smokers have it. I prefer to be around smokers. I like the smoker's personality.


I also enjoy the company of recovered alcoholics. People who have had to give up drink have often gained deep insights into themselves and others. What an alcoholic learns in his or her struggles can be of use to the rest of us.


I miss jelly donuts and food loaded with sugar. Whenever I see someone eating that type of food, I always tell them to eat another portion for me.


There is a critical difference between the words "compel" and "impel" . I reflect frequently upon that. When a person has internalised knowledge in such a way that they feel they must do something, it is far more profound a change than when they are externally compelled. Forcing people to make health decisions they are not ready for deprives them of opportunities for spiritual and emotional growth.


Moral decisions are ultimately for our own good. Years ago, I stopped by the home of a divorced friend whose irresponsibility led to the breakup of his marriage. I will never forget the expression on his face when his daughter told him in a matter of fact manner that mommy was out on a date.


While I am on the subject of divorce, it is not just looks that are hereditary. Emotional traits and learning patterns also have genetic roots. I can't count the number of times that I understand immediately one of my children's difficulties in learning and socialisation from first or second hand experience growing up. There are some great step parents, probably millions of them. Some are probably better than the biological parent. But common genes do make a difference. They are certainly a good card to have in your hand in the game of parenting. Why throw it out if you can avoid doing so?


Love for my family has always been a more powerful motive for making healthy choices than bluenose preachers or nanny state mayors. I still would rather blog than exercise, and that is a problem. My wife wants to hook my laptop up to a bicycle powered generator so I will burn off calories as I blog. If I could buy such a thing, I would use it in a heartbeat.


Arriving at the point where you are ready to trade physical enjoyment for longevity and a better quality of life is a very personal decision. Each person has a different constitution and different goals. The best we can do is to encourage each other as we chase our respective dreams. Kicking a bad habit, whether it is an emotional habit or a physical one has to be a free will decision for it to really take root. And what ultimately is freedom? Freedom is knowing what's right and doing it. It is arriving at that spark of insight where it appears as though there really is no choice. Sometimes even family, and certainly the state has to step back and let such a moment of insight take place.


I tried to quit smoking three times. The first two times were not failures. I learned about my self with each successive try at that and at any other goal. When you finally succeed, all your failures cease to be failures.


You can tax me and fine me. You may even make it impossible to have any bad habits at all. But how can a compulsion make up for the knowledge of self that comes through struggle and introspection? Perhaps the state can give you years. But it can not give you life.

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