Recently, I was invited to play golf with a group of men I hadn’t played with before. The encounter began with the most gregarious member of the group observing me play an approach shot to the green and walking over to me and asking if I’d like to play in golf group of retirees that play various days during the week to take full advantage of senior rates. We proceeded to talk about times of day the group played, and handicaps and all the things that golfers usually talk about when it comes to playing golf. I went on to play a few rounds with the group and it has turned out to be good relationship. However, in thinking about that first encounter with the gentleman that invited me into the group, I realized there was an elephant in the room of that initial conversation consisting of the things all golfers think about but don’t verbally express. Golf is one of those funny games where you’re not actually competing against the people you’re playing with, but you’re competing against the golf course and the elements. Consequently, you tend to only want to play with people who inspire you and not distract you in negative ways. What we both were thinking but not saying in that first conversation was, “Is this one of those guys who plays extra slowly, or talks too much in between shots and acts like a frustrated sports caster and verbally analyzes everything you do and everything he does or smoke and drink throughout the round. None of these things are by themselves any problems for any particular golfer and some actually enjoy those and other things that some people would find obnoxious and others would find highly enjoyable. But the elephant in the room is the thing that must, and will, be addressed at some point in any relationship and is the thing that determines if the relationship thrives, survives or dies.
I assert that any issue of significance in your life that you may be struggling with or is a source of consternation for you has an elephant in the room that is being ignored by you and whomever else involved in the issue. We create these elephants because discussing them head on is more uncomfortable than struggling with the issue. For example in a previous posting (the Wouldn’t It Be Great series), I pointed out that a good deal of America’s dysfunctional politics is related to its refusal to discuss the issue of slavery in its past in a meaningful way that assigns to it the historical significance it deserves. The guilt and same of it is unbearable to almost all Americans and is as difficult to look at as a giant facial pimple on prom night. Fortunately there are signs that our present reality is painful enough to force us to look at it so we can reach the point where we can truly put it behind us and take the power it holds over us away forever. This is what we have to start doing for all the elephants in our lives. To that end, I would like to identify the elephant in the room for one area in our lives that we struggle with as Americans – the area of diet.
As Americans we are the most obese people of all the first world countries. We spend more money on diet and fitness programs than probably any other people on Earth, and yet we continue to be almost morbidly obese on average. The elephant in the room on this issue is failure to control our addictions. Here in America, we’re not only addicted to opioids and other mood altering drugs, we are addicted of salt, sugar and animal fat. The addictions to salt, sugar and animal fat came about as a direct consequence of our addiction to the mindless sports and entertainment programing on TV. Our food addiction is an integral part of our Television addition – the two go hand in hand. As human beings we are creatures of habit. We use our minds to organize our activities into habits that ostensibly aid us in achieving the things we want out of life. To be successful in life, we must consciously cultivate habits that support what we perceive to be our life’s purpose. It we fail to do this and sort of passively drift through life, we are inclined to develop habits that are counter productive to our life’s mission. As we vicariously live through the images hypnotizing us on the TV screen, we enhance the experience with sugar, salt and fat and like smoking and drinking, the one enhances the other. Consequently, instead of being committed to our life’s purpose, we are committed to feeding our addiction to high fructose corn syrup, sodium products in the form of French fries and potato chips and animal fats in the form of hot wings and barbeque ribs. If you ever wonder why professional athletes and entertainers live like kings queens, its because the candy companies, beverage companies (soft and alcoholic) and pizza makers who sponsor the mindless TV shows and sports broadcasts we watch can afford to pay them like kings and queens. Even the poorest member of our society spends almost all of his/her disposable income on nonessential products that ultimately enrich the TV sponsors. So we sit, watch and eat our way into oblivion.
Not long ago, I saw a women walk into a Walmart store I happened to be in buying light bulbs and other household accessories. That woman was 400 pounds if was an ounce. She came into the store casually licking a huge ice cream cone, with three little overweight kids trailing behind her, also licking ice cream cones. I thought to myself, this is how the human body transforms high fructose corn syrup into itself. The interesting thing about this woman was that, knowing what I know about facial esthetics and body proportion from my work in cosmetic dentistry and dentition reconstruct with dental implants, I could see that underneath that mass of human flesh and sinew a beautiful woman lay hidden. I couldn’t help wondering what caused her to be so committed to her addiction as to be willing to give up all of the human potential she obviously had. What emotional or physical trauma, or degree of lack of parental attention could have been so server that she would so willingly invest the time and determination necessary for her to eat enough to become so grotesquely large?
I think the answer to that question has to do with a combination of the lack of purpose our society has and the intense fear of loss we seem to have. From the day Robin Leach made Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous TV show so popular back in the early 1980s, I knew we were in trouble. As a nation, we have fallen prey to the psychology of more. What comes with that is a feeling that there’s never enough – that’s the flip side of always wanting more. When you think about it, the whole purpose of television in the USA is to sell product. By definition, salesmanship is the ability to create a need that wasn’t there prior to the sales pitch. Since many of us spend most of our waking hours riveted to the face of a TV set, our minds are saturated with negative programing. Corporate America (i.e. TV sponsors) has transmuted the fear of loss we all have into the belief that they, the people who have artificially created the fear in us, are the only ones who can protect us from the loss we fear. As a result, we have empowered a government that is above the law and allows its sponsors (corporate America) to do what ever it wants at our expense. It tells us, “if you don’t do what I say I will take your jobs, and thus your ability to watch TV and eat pizza” (which incidentally has degenerated into no more than glorified grilled cheese on toasted bread with catsup).
As Americans we have become the fatted calf of corporate America. They see us me mere production units graded by the dollars each of us produces for their stockholders in the course of our, in their eyes, miserable lives. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against capitalism. I myself am a capitalist. But capital to me is a means to an end, not the end in itself. When we get to the point where capital only exists to create more capital, we are in trouble. As it stands today, Americans exist for the sole purpose of consuming all of the inherently useless goods created by the rest of the world. How can there not be a trade deficit when rest of the world doesn’t believe they need flat screen TVs, refrigerators with crushed ice makers and a different pair of shoes for every day of the month, as we do. If they do buy such things it’s after they have funded their savings and retirement accounts, not before.
Anyone who deals with drug addicts will tell you that once a human being is addicted to a substance, you can make the addict do anything you want by the mere threat of taking away the substance. Similarly, we now find ourselves at the mercy of the corporate “pushers” who seek to control every aspect of our lives down the smallest detail. This discussion may seem a long way from the subject of food addiction, but what I’m trying to point out here is that our food addiction and its consequence of obesity is merely a symptom of a much more serious problem – loss of our self respect as a nation. Most of us won’t admit that we have sacrificed our integrity for the promise of financial gain, but the supersized stature of the average American says otherwise. We must somehow shake the illusion of need corporate America has instilled in us almost from childhood. Like actual elephants held in check tethered to thin chain attached to a spike nailed in the ground, the conditioning the elephant had from childhood when it was too small to break the chain or pull out the spike has the elephant fooled into believing it can’t free itself as an adult. Like the elephant we too must find a way to dispel the illusion of material need. We need a twelve-step program to restore our integrity. If we do that, we’ll not only solve our diet problems, but our political, economic, education and healthcare problems as well. Loss of our national integrity and moral compass – that’s the elephant in the room.