When you visit people in hospital it always seems best to be cheery and bright. Chat about the outside world. Behave normally, as you would if you and your friend were at home, or in a coffee shop or bar. Make them forget, for a while, about the pain, or the drip in the arm, or the awful food, or the uncomfortable bed. Pretend that everything is fine. Crack jokes. Repeat scurrilous gossip. Chat about the kids. All designed to make them feel better - just like the clowns they often have visiting children's wards in hospital.
But what do you do when a friend is dying? Do you totally change the relationship in order to constantly talk about the illness, and consciously and conscientiously try to cover all the bases of conversation so as not to have left any topic uncovered when, you know, the day finally comes? Or do you just behave as normally as possible, talking and joking about the same things you always talked and joked about, ignoring the illness, and prognosis, as much as possible?
I don't know the answer although I have wrestled with the question twice now in recent years. I chose to go the second way, figuring that it was what I would want, and probably what they would want. Trying to extend the window of hope, the art of living, the normal human relationships, for a little longer.
I thought about all this as I watched Mary Hart on ET the other day. I suddenly realized that the corporate media, like me, have been agonizing about the proper way to behave in difficult circumstances. Groups of network executives have attended workshops in luxury mountain retreats, brainstorming in sessions devoted to media strategies in different time slots and for different demographics.
They all know the Earth is at best sick and at worst dying you see. Hell, even Rupert Murdoch knows that. And they are faced with my dilemma when visiting with a sick or dying friend. Do they acknowledge the problem, talk about it, examine the health charts, ask questions of the doctors, ask to see the tubes or the blotchy skin? Or do they put on happy faces and pretend that nothing is wrong in order to keep the patient, in this case the population of the planet, relaxed and comfortable for a little longer?
Well, just like me, they have decided on the second course of action. And so they send in the clowns like Mary Hart, fixed broad smile painted on, to babble about Britney and Lindsay and Oscar and Anna Nicole and to pretend that Dancing with the Stars is a serious contest, and that "Late breaking news" is news. And on every morning show and every news bulletin they have the presenter talk about Britney and Lindsay and Oscar and Anna Nicole. Oh and Dancing with the Stars. Happy happy happy all the time. Nothing wrong. No problem. Don't worry. Just relax and pretend things are as they always have been.
And outside the hospital windows, and all the windows, temperatures rise, storm clouds gather, glaciers melt, droughts deepen, seas acidify, crops fail, species head for extinction.
But as we head for our own extinction, planetary death, it is a comfort to see the clowns perform, hear the never-ending laughter. Definitely the right decision from the network execs - don't want people panicking, protesting, demanding answers from the doctors, do we now?
Dean Inge suggested that "Democracy is only an experiment in government, and it has the obvious disadvantage of merely counting votes instead of weighing them". But then he hadn't heard of Diebold. Plenty about democracy on The Watermelon Blog.