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Shhhhh… Don’t tell anyone

So, there was this guy I used to know. And, yes, a million stories told in bars have started with that exact phrase.

His name was Randy Holland. As I have already confessed my past in these pages and he’s dead, I can say he was my AA sponsor. Interesting guy. He made a critically-acclaimed record in the early 1970s that sells for good money to this day, if you can find one. He was in the infamous Black Book of people banned from Vegas casinos. More importantly, he was a big part of saving the lives of dozens of guys over the years, including a few who lived here in Boulder City.

Randy died more than a decade ago but, before he shuffled off this mortal coil, he taught me (and many others) a lot.

He once said to me, “Don’t worry about that snake in the middle of the road in front of you until you’re sure it’s not just a stick.” To this day, when someone in my family is caught in the trap of worrying too much over something that might happen but probably won’t, one of us will just say “Snake. Stick.”

Another time he told me, “I used to think that if someone did not agree with me, I had just not explained myself well enough.” I didn’t really get it until after he died, when it finally dawned on me that he was talking about me, not himself, at which point I finally started to listen to people who disagreed with me instead of just letting them talk while I planned the next thing I was going to say. It was when I finally got comfortable just saying, “I don’t know.”

Invaluable lessons all. But the one that has been on my mind lately was an instruction he gave me early on in my sobriety journey. He said, “You need to try, every day, to do something nice for someone who can’t really reciprocate. And then, shut the hell up about it.”

I can’t say that I succeed in this every day. But it is something I think about each and every day of my life and something I try to do as often as I can.

There are two important parts to Randy’s decree. First, that the recipient of the good deed is not in a position to repay the deed in kind. No matter how noble the act, if one does it with the expectation that it will come back to them in some way, then it is more like a ledger entry than an act of kindness.

The second crucial thing is the “shut the hell up about it.”

See, as I try to follow Randy’s advice, I am not going to list any of the things I have done. Because telling other people turns the act from something I really consider as sacred to, well, a way to enlarge myself, to show other people what a good person I think I am.

We have become an almost totally performative society. Humans have always had an urge to show off, but smartphones and social media have put a giant spotlight on that tendency. A couple of years ago, I wrote a song called “FOMO” that started with the lines: “It used to be when I woke up. Before I even poured a cup. I’d reach for a smoke, not a screen. Now I flick through the social thread. I’m filled with existential dread. At the perfect lives and bodies I’ll see.” As a guy who used to write a blog on one of my websites wrote once, “Social media did not change us. It revealed us.”

The whole phenomenon of “Look at me! Tell me I’m awesome!” that social media quickly devolved into (I blame it all on Instagram, for whatever that is worth) is a big part of the reason I mostly gave up even the limited social media I did personally back in about 2017. The other reason is that I finally figured out that 90% of the people who would jump down my throat when I posted anything they disagreed with were people who I didn’t even know in the real world. There is a subject for another day. And an admission, I did start to dip my toe back into the slime-infused waters of Facebook about a year ago. Why? I had an album to promote. Simple, honest explanation.

Anyway… I don’t expect to change any minds or the behavior of anyone else. (See the bit above about “I used to think that if someone didn’t agree with me, I had just not explained it well enough.”) But, maybe, just think about it for a second before dropping that “Look at the awesome thing I just did” post. I believe very strongly (as a devotee of a certain libertarian writer sometimes just referred to as “That Woman”) that everyone does everything out of self-interest. Even “selfless” acts are done because there is a payoff of feeling good about what you did. I get that.

And, for what it’s worth, I get a great deal of self-interest good feelings when I help someone else. I just choose not to tell the whole world about it. And that feels good, too.

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