The Wisdom of Douglas Adams: Don’t Panic

Life isn’t that hard. It is something I am starting to realize. Most of the hard parts are things we caused ourselves, are unwilling or unable to fix, or problems we are unwilling to see and accept even when evidence piles higher and higher showing the truth. When I start to get stressed or overwhelmed I try to self medicate with a few actions; I plug into a stream of music, I work out, or I read. And what I read is something lighthearted and funny … funny always works with me. And I know what I think is funny, so I find myself re-visiting old friends … maybe a Xanth novel like “Night Mare” or an Incarnations of Immortality book like “On a Pale Horse”. But when I really want the funny I pick up my copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and I start reading. I did this recently and as I sat there, laughing out loud and scaring the dog, some of the sayings in the book started making sense to me in other areas of my life, and I realized that Douglas Adams, God rest his soul, was teaching us things … whether he knew it or not. So I started writing some of them down and reflecting on them (yeah I know … nerd) to see what it really meant to me. And now you get to enjoy them as well. As a side note, if you’ve never read this book … do yourself a favor … read it. If you don’t find yourself laughing … well … you just don’t know funny.

“I like the cover,” he said. “Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.”

It’s a simple statement, and the cover of the book in question doesn’t state the name of the book, but only has emblazoned on its cover the words “Don’t Panic”. The book is a guide with how to survive in the Universe, yet the simple truth is on the cover and puts it bluntly. You can survive anything as long as you don’t panic.

“Sir,’ I said to the universe, ‘I exist.’ ‘That,’ said the universe, ‘creates no sense of obligation in me whatsoever.”

We all like to think we are important and matter in the large sense of the word, but the simple truth is that there are many objects in the universe, and as important as you’d like to think you and your problems are, you’re not. Your existence matters to you, your loved ones, your friends, but in the grand scheme it means very little. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

We think we are important because we have “things”. We work for these things, we accumulate them, we become jealous over things others have … it’s human nature … but the simple fact is that there are plenty of people with next to nothing that are far happier than the people driving BMW’s and making 6 figures.

“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

I’ve wondered this before … actually wrote a paper on it during my undergraduate work. Kind of like a Truman Show idea that somehow we are not in charge of what is happening to us and you wonder why whoever IS in charge takes such great pleasure in messing with us. The truth is though that we are the only one in control. We created our own reality. Only we can change it if it needs to be changed.

“If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.”

I never considered myself to have a great ego. I am learning recently that I do have one, and I don’t like the fact that I have it. It’s not the normal “Type A” ego that we associate with the word, but rather a feeling of “I want to be important in others eyes”. But why do I feel like that? Should I really care that I have inadvertently hurt someones feelings or that someone doesn’t “like” me? Does it make a difference? If what I said or wrote was an honest opinion of what I think or feel, then why should it matter to me that someone else took exception? I found myself last year trying to explain myself to someone, which went for naught because, true to the conformation bias we all have, they didn’t accept my explanation. It wasn’t their truth so any attempt to explain what I meant was dismissed. Should I care after that? I am not sure I should.

“A towel, [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.”

Stay calm and always have a towel with you. Simple truth.

“For a moment, nothing happened. Then, after a second or so, nothing continued to happen.”

We all want something to happen, but isn’t it nice when you take a moment and just enjoy nothing happening? I was thinking the other day that I have never really had a vacation. Yes I have traveled, but it’s usually for a race or for work. I have never been able to afford, on my own, a week away just to have nothing to do. I am not even sure if I would enjoy sitting around doing “nothing”. My monkey mind would never calm down enough for that to be allowed I think. But man, does it sound tempting some days.

“All right,” said Deep Thought. “The Answer to the Great Question…”
“Of Life, the Universe and Everything…” said Deep Thought.
“Is…” said Deep Thought, and paused.
“Forty-two,” said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm.”

Sometimes it is not the answer we seek, because we never really know or understand what it is we are really asking. So, when presented with THE answer, we then have to revisit the question in order to understand the meaning of it. I get this in my work all the time. My boss will hand me a project to compile data into some meaningful context, but when represented with the results it is either not the answer they wanted or not what they want to present (or both). Data is data, and numbers don’t lie. Sometimes it’s the question you have asked that is incorrect. Very deep, I know … but kinda cool. 🙂

“One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very very obvious.”

We all know how I feel about training and nutrition, but it really comes down to a simple three words: Eat. Real. Food. That’s it. Simple. But still the book shelves are lined with 50 books stating how to lose weight in TEN DAYS, how to train like the “stars”, blah blah blah. I don’t subscribe to any “diet” … I don’t believe in diets and once I hear that word I tune out. Diet is the equivalent of denying yourself something you want, and it is human nature that if you start denying yourself anything, it becomes the only thing you want. Personally, I went off of sugar and grains. The sugar wasn’t that hard for me, and since not eating it for almost a year now I find that when I eat anything with sugar in it unknowingly I can taste it immediately. Grapes taste like candy to me. The grains were harder to lose for me, especially bread, and I still have a piece from time to time … but it’s easier to pass it up as the time goes by … in the end I don’t enjoy how it makes me feel afterwards, so not doing it is not so hard for me. It’s kind of like drinking … why anyone puts them through a hangover on purpose is beyond me …

“Ford!” he said, “there’s an infinite number of monkeys outside who want to talk to us about this script for Hamlet they’ve worked out.”

I just think that one is funny …

“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”

I use this saying a lot. It’s one of my favorites and I think it applies to everyone in a position of power. The people who know their jobs and care about what they do are normally not the ones in charge. The people in charge are usually in charge because they knew someone, or knew how to work the system enough to get that corner office. And before anyone jumps on me, of course it is not always the case, but I can tell you after four years in local government that the people gaining promotions are not gaining it on merit … it’s because they knew someone or, more often than that, it is because they have remained in place long enough to be the last one standing. Maybe it’s just a government thing? That was the great thing about the military. You had the EARN promotions. It had nothing to do with how much ass you kissed. You put your time in rank, took the test, and if you scored high enough you were promoted. Period. The only thing ass kissing got anyone was chapped lips and reduced respect from their peers.

“What’s so unpleasant about being drunk?” “Ask a glass of water!”

It’s all perspective isn’t it? I think at times we forget to look at the situation from other people’s point of view. Yeah I may rankle people a bit now and then, but there are reasons for my “hot buttons” and if you took the time to actually know me outside of my Facebook profile you’d might be surprised at what I have had to deal with in my 51 years, and it may help you to understand me a little more. I talk about it some on the podcast (Back of Pack Endurance). I probably share a bit too much, but readers of this blog know very well that I am normally an open book … about most things.

“Bypasses are devices that allow some people to dash from point A to point B very fast while other people dash from point B to point A very fast. People living at point C, being a point directly in between, are often given to wonder what’s so great about point A that so many people from point B are so keen to get there, and what’s so great about point B that so many people from point A are so keen to get there. They often wish that people would just once and for all work out where the hell they wanted to be.”

That’s a long way of saying “the grass is always greener” isn’t it? I do wonder about this sometimes while driving. I come from the Brandon area to Tampa every day and you see the normal traffic heading into the city, but why is there people going the other way? If you work in Brandon why are you living in Tampa? And if I work in Tampa, why am I living in Brandon? Florida being the way it is, this is a common thing. You cannot survive in Florida, at least not for very long, without a car. The is the only thing I am envious about when it comes to bigger cities; everything can be accessed by walking. How great would it be to be able to walk to work?? Or even ride my bike to work?? How much of our time is wasted sitting in a car, or even sitting in general? No wonder we are a Fat Nation.

“Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.”

Boy can I relate to THIS one. I am finding more and more that people do not really want to know what others really think about something. About anything. If they disagree with someone they say nothing because they don’t want to “rock the boat” and of course I don’t think that way. I don’t understand that mindset. People want confirmation and only confirmation, and when they don’t get it they get very upset. Personally I would rather know what someone thinks then to have them agree with me while talking to others secretly about how much of an idiot they think I am. Go figure. I get private messages from people all the time about things they don’t agree with that is being discussed on a message board or on a timeline and my first response is always “well, say something about it”. The normal answer to that is “No … I don’t want to hurt their feelings” or some derivative of that. I always assume my friendships are strong enough where I can tell someone what I think, even when I think they are wrong, without jeopardizing the relationship. The bottom line here, I think, is that if I cannot be truthful about what I think, then there really is not a friendship there anyway.

“I don’t want to die now!” he yelled. “I’ve still got a headache! I don’t want to go to heaven with a headache, I’d be all cross and wouldn’t enjoy it!”

I just liked that quote as an ending. 🙂

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