Dr. Coats Teaches Us How to Live

by Tim Coats

It's about time we answered the highly exaggerated charge that we are a pack of misanthropes posing as humanitarians. First off, let me point out that misanthropy is an old and distinguished line of thought. Some of our favorite people are misanthropes (though apparently they don't care for us too much). There's absolutely nothing wrong with disliking everybody as long as it's done in moderation and with good taste. The latest findings in anthropology indicate that unfriendliness is natural to mankind. Many of our leading zoologists are finally coming around to the view that unfriendliness is also felt by other forms of life. Incredibly, a microbiologist has shown that the amoeba lives its life in almost constant and unremitting hatred.

But let us not waste time with excuses when they are so readily available. On to your questions.

Q: I often feel very good about myself. In fact, I feel so good that when I'm outside I walk quickly with my head down as though I have something on my mind. But really I don't. I just don't want people to see me so carefree. Are there many people in my boat?

A: You're not kidding anyone, of course. Everybody knows that the only people who walk with their heads down as though they have something on their minds are those, like yourself, who don't. Feeling good about oneself is a problem that's never been widely discussed, mainly because so few people suffer from it. There is, however, help available. Support groups have sprung up in many suburban areas, which seem to be spawning grounds.

Q: I like dealing with troubled youth. So what I did was have a lot of kids. I figured that at least some of them would be troubled. And it worked like a charm!

A: This is, of course, a letter that any editor cherishes -- one that requires no comment. We shall immediately deposit it in our life-strategies-that-work file. We will add only that methods for helping children along into the troubled category (for those people who can't afford too many kids), are numerous and can be located in any library.

Q: Here is something my wife gets on me about: when I deal with somebody -- a cashier, a friend, anybody -- I raise my voice in a friendly way and say something that isn't necessarily funny, but I say it in a funny way. I might even just repeat what the person said. Basically, I'm trying to get along, you know. Be friendly. My wife says I'm just showing my insecurity. What do you think?

A: Everybody is a deadhead trying to keep you from enjoying yourself: isn't that what you are really saying? Well, my friend, don't look for sympathy in this quarter. You can hear a pin drop around here, and we have a great time. We don't have to raise our voices, screw up our faces, and get all sing-songy. There are nice, quiet, subtle ways to communicate, which is what sets modern man off from the barbarians. We're sending on our pamphlet on how to subdue yourself when dealing with people and still get at least a minimum amount of pleasure out of it.

Q: Have they started working on the self-cutting lawn yet, or is that still pretty far down the list of priorities?

A: Not only is it high on the list of priorities, but reliable sources have it that freeing the massive scientific input needed for self-cutting lawns from weapons research is what's behind our current willingness to make peace with our traditional enemy. It seems they're aiming not only for self-cutting, but for lawns that collect their clippings and put them into neat little piles.

Q: I used to always play it by the book, and everybody hated me. However, I found that I could get away with playing it by the book if I restricted it to when it was to my advantage.

A: It's surprising how some people can get it right all by themselves.

Q: I'm a motorcycle tough. I love everything about it except actually riding motorcycles. I've been to everybody with this problem. You folks are really a last-ditch effort. I'd be happy with just a shred of hope.

A: I don't know why you people don't come to us right off the bat. This really is one of our specialties. We've gotten more reluctant riders onto the saddle than anybody else. And for the utter intractables, we offer a wide variety of excuses for staying off the motorcycle while still being a fully accredited gang member.

Q: This might be too stupid to bring up, even to you people, but I have tiny little muscles. Is there any point in showing them off?

A: Not really. You could put all the people who are impressed by little tiny muscles in a nutshell. We have a few of them around here, but they're not our most notable staffers.

Q: I'm one of those people who looks at everybody with open-mouthed awe. I think when I was a kid I wasn't around critical types to imitate. Do you have any recommendations?

A: Rear back, tuck in your chin, and squint.

Q: I'll tell you a dilemma I run into: sometimes I'll think I should try to be friends with people I'm not comfortable with figuring nobody else will. Then I think everybody has different tastes and some people will want to be friends with them, and I'm just wasting everybody's time including my own. Which is right?

A: People like our letter-writer never learn. We'll say it once more: those who make you feel uncomfortable are doing it on purpose. They don't want to be your friend. Now will you people please leave them alone? Also, do you think it's a magic wand that makes you so comfortable with certain people? They're putting out an effort! And when you shun them in favor of someone who puts out no effort whatsoever, they begin to wonder.

Q: I'm an excellent but nervous student. I irritate people who aren't such good students with my incessant worrying about my classes. Shouldn't they have to listen to this kind of thing and join me in my concerns?

A: They certainly should, and many of them will, but you'll always find some who won't get off their high horses no matter what. Don't get so affronted, however, that you burn all your bridges with these people. You may find yourself working for one of them someday.

Q: I'm seventy-five and still don't know what I want to be.

A: Fortunately for the letter-writer, they're pushing the age where it matters further and further back. I'd begin to think about it though. Nobody faults you for discovering these things too soon.

Q: I feel that I get an awfully lot out of life. I hate to be the eternal optimist, but it's hard for me to look at it any other way.

A: The optimistic outlook can be a devil to overcome, but one must make the effort. It's nowhere near as easy to become sour and embittered as the media would have us believe. This is definitely another thing that something has to be done about.

Q: I've always been a very serious person, but I have such a marvelous sense of humor (I've been told) that I hate to waste it. Which should take the back seat?

A: The world certainly doesn't need anymore funny people. And all these serious faces are getting a little much. Can you sing?

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