Monday, June 1, 2009

"Taking Credit Where Credit Isn't Due"

Anna: Dad, how come the hair on your chest is gray, but the hair on your head is brown?

Earl: They gave me a choice.

No they didn’t. It’s just what it is. I’m an old man with a head covered with (mostly) brown hair. I’ve been asked about this a surprising number of times. Invariably by men. Invariably in an unfriendly tone.

“Do you color your hair?” they insinuatingly inquire, hoping because they’re younger than me and they’re already gray that my answer will be, “I do. Every twenty minutes.”

I take no credit for my post-maturely brown hair. It’s nothing I had anything to do with. The thing is, in this culture, having not gray hair when people the same age (and younger) generally do have gray hair provides a certain type of distinction. We live in a youth-worshipping environment that views aging as a disease. Many men (and women) spend large sums of money for hair that looks the way mine happens to look naturally.

My good fortune in the hair department is not really all that helpful. I’m still seen as too old to work in television. And I don’t think I’m fooling God.

“Brown hair. Too young to kill.”

It is my apparently minority opinion that an older person trying to look younger always looks like an older person trying to look younger. There’s always a “giveaway.” You have youthful looking hair but a neck that hangs down to your belt. Of course, this negative perspective comes from a guy whose hair forgot to turn gray. I doubt if I’d dye it anyway. I’d be afraid it would rain, and some telltale brown stuff would come running down my forehead.

I’m using “hair” as a starting point. The real issue is the absurdity of people receiving (or taking) credit for things they had absolutely nothing to do with. They said about George Bush, the Dad:

“George woke up on third base, and thought that he’d hit a triple.”

That’s one part of it – winning the “family” lottery. I never cared for the children of the rich, and not because they had better stuff than me, though that didn’t help. Rich people’s children seem to walk around with this swaggering sense of entitlement (though it could just be good posture from riding lessons). These guys act like they actually accomplished something, when what totally made them was being born into a family that happened to have money. It’s not like the kids had a say in the matter.

“You want to be born to a rich family or a poor family?”

“Rich, please.”

That never happened. And even if it did, you shouldn’t get credit for the obvious answer. I mean, who’d go the other way?

“I’ll take ‘poor’.”

“Are you crazy?”

“I don’t know. I kinda like to scuffle.”

There’s no question, there’s no answer. You get what you get. And whatever it is has nothing to do with you.

A bigger issue. Because it takes in a larger group of people.

Being an American.

I’m not referring to immigrants here. Those people (including me) made a choice; the majority of Americans – I think they’re still the majority – didn’t. Their ancestors may have, but not them. Ignoring their accidentally good fortune, Americans seem puffed with a sense of superiority, dismissing the fact that they could very easily have been born somewhere else.

I don’t know how “being born” works. I don’t know if you line up and you get the next country on the list.

“African Congo.”


“You can’t pass.”

And off you go. It may work that way, it may not. But the result is the same as if it did. You go where you go. Again, you have no say in the matter. Taking credit for your location of birth makes no more sense than taking credit for having been born into a rich family or having brown hair after you’re supposed to anymore.

These things have nothing

To do

With you.

Then there’s the big one.


Beautiful woman:

“You see these body parts? I grew them myself.”

No you didn’t.

A man of remarkable height:

“I willed myself tall.”

I don’t think you did.

A really smart person:

“I’m a brain!”

No, you were given a brain. It just happens to be a good one.”

I’ve written about this before. (“Nature and That’s It” – Feb. 18, 2009.) In my view, the overwhelming majority of our attributes (I actually said all our attributes, but my smart former sociology professor friend, Shelly, guffawed at me derisively), the attributes that define who we were wired into our programming before we were born. There’s no

“She taught herself to have an even temperament.”


“Every time she got upset, she said, “That’s not how I’d like to be.”

It’s not our call. That stuff was decided before we got there.

There are so many things about us that are entirely out of our control. Yet we still take what, to me, is an odd and unjustified pride, in who we are. A woman, so spectacularly put together she makes otherwise reasonable men drive into a tree. As she calls for the paramedics, there’s a good chance she’s thinking,

“I’m really hot!”

You didn’t do anything!

“What are you mean? I made an otherwise reasonable man drive into a tree!”

Your body did that. You just happened to be occupying it at the time.

In the future, I want to go more deeply into what it means to be us. Who exactly is this “me” I keep talking about, and am so very, very proud of? I’m thinking that when you subtract the stuff we happen to be the passive recipients of – our family relationship, our country of origin, our genetic makeup, for starters – there may not actually be a whole lot of “me” left.


Dimension Skipper said...

An interesting topic and an interesting take. Looking forward to future explorations...

Joe said...

You'll be pleased to know I went grey in my 20s.

"That kid over there? Too old to work in TV."

growingupartists said...

I remember your nature argument and my insistence that it's all nurture. It IS all nurture Earl, don't be such a victim.

Love your take on entitled children of the rich. The crying shame is that these idiotic out of touch kids get to keep leading the nation, from their insulated points of view. The parents don't seem to care about anything except their personal legacies and the futures of their own families.

Well, they give to charity. Pretending it has nothing to do with the expensive ball. It's going to be a crappy week, Earl.

bbot said...

"In the future, I want to go more deeply into what it means to be us. Who exactly is this “me” I keep talking about, and am so very, very proud of? I’m thinking that when you subtract the stuff we happen to be the passive recipients of – our family relationship, our country of origin, our genetic makeup, for starters – there may not actually be a whole lot of “me” left."

There is, in fact, no "me" left. Physics is deterministic down to the smallest scale. There's enough moving parts, and they interact in sufficiently complex ways as to create the impression of perfect randomness, and certain mathematical problems can be more easily solved by assuming perfect randomness; (c.f. chaos theory) but there is no such thing.

Anonymous said...

Whoever the hell you are, I'm very happy to have been able to passively receive you at random and sporadic times in our lives. Does it make sense to say 'it's been real'? Or was it all a dream? Keep it light, Earl. Don't worry your pretty brown head.

growingupartists said...

Earl, I hope you don't mind me posting this here, but Lorne Michaels has NO taste. When the Tabliban finally take us down, or the Christian conservatives who root faithfully for the Armageddon, I will have no one else to blame but Lorne and Paul Simon.

I'm sorry, but the media is our most important drone, as I've said before, and it has no focus, no leadership, and Jimmy Fallon will never figure it out on his own.

Too bad, America.

growingupartists said...


Tabliban, it's slang.

MikeThe Blogger said...

Besides genetics and the luck to be born in a certain place and time there are the random events that shape our lives. You might enjoy “The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,” by Leonard Mlodinow - especially his discussion of Movie Company Executives, some chapters are math related but his examples are "real world" and explained well.

Chuck Sigars said...

I'll wait to read more on this from you; fun. Just wanted to join your hair club -- I had to shave my beard finally, reluctantly, because its solid whiteness clashed with the brown stuff on top. I have no idea why, either, since Dad and my brother both went gray in their 30s, but there you go. It'll all fall out before it gets gray, I guess, but at least then I won't have to hear, "I just assumed you dyed it." And yeah. From other men, ALWAYS.

Judy Marcus, Memory Lady said...

Your brown hair forgot to turn grey! Lucky you! Earl, that's an "un-memory" tip this "blonde" Memory Lady would love to learn. Just think of the time and money I'd save.

A. Buck Short said...

John Calvin, meet Malcolm Gladwell. And thanks for giving our kids more ammunition to blame all of their shortcomings on me -- without recognizing the irony.

Anonymous said...

Earl, you now have me rethinking the lawsuit I was going to file against my parents, who neglected to give me the height or talent to be an NBA star.