Years ago there was the Dick Van Dyke show. But a few years after it went off the air there was another sitcom starring Dick Van Dyke. The genius title for the new show was The New Dick Van Dyke show. The sixties and seventies had brilliant writers. Now I don’t remember much about either one of the shows but there was one scene from the second show that has always stuck with me. Dick comes home from work and someone asks him “How goes the rat race?” To which Dick answers “The rats are winning!” That line has stayed with me throughout the years and I find that no matter how many years pass, it is still surprisingly funny. But the other day, I actually found the original show on TV and watched a few episodes. It was silly and nostalgic but it did remind me of that line from long ago. And I started to really think about it.
It took me almost fifty years but I believe my perspective has finally changed. We are the rats. I guess in my childhood mind I saw the rats as the ones who were running amok and Dick and the boys were the adults and those in power trying to keep some semblance of order. On a bad day, when things didn’t go as planned for Dick, it was the common chaos of the world that was working against him. Such is the mind of a child. Those who are trying to keep the world running smoothly had to be on their toes as there were those ne’er do wells lurking on every street corner just waiting for the opportunity to cause problems. That is what we were raised with back in the day. There was a hierarchy but there was clearly a divide between the good guys and the bad guys. The rats were the bad guys.
Fast forward through the years and I have done my stint in the corporate world. Navigated the rules to the best of my ability while simultaneously trying to get ahead in life. I did what was expected. Went to school. Gave up precious time away from my family to advance. Traded hours for money. While I evaluated how far I wanted to rise up in the world financially or from a personal advancement, often the money fell short. So I never rose in the ranks as the sacrifice seemed too great. My hubby and I settled on a degree of personal comfort that was attainable with the sacrifices we were willing to make. But in the end, we were always cogs in a wheel which was just a small piece of the corporate machine. We were willing participants in pushing forward an agenda and world view in which we had absolutely no input.
I remember meetings being the absolute bane of my existence. I particularly hated the round table type of brainstorming meetings where upper management wanted to get your point of view. Lets face it. They had already made up their minds about the direction they were taking and just wanted us to buy in. So they asked what we thought and we felt good giving our two cents worth. In the end, what ever changes came down the pipes later had little to no input from us underlings. Now I understand that motivation is and always has been the underlying do or die unpredictable piece of a companies success. The means by which we try and get employees to buy in has changed over and over and over again but in the end, as a company grows and morphs the tricks can all be undermined by one or two small voices. These are the rats that the top brass need to keep their eyes on. Look back through history and you will see that it is the truly strong and unafraid who see something they don’t like and they set about to make things right. Before long things can change for the better. For everyone. But we all know in most of these cases that first guy always seems to go down in the fight. But these are the hero’s from our past. These are the ones who caused governments to change laws and forced corporations to take responsibility. We are forever grateful to those who came before and put up the big fight.
Here is the problem though. For every gain in history, there is a loss. Two steps forward, one step back. The more advances and legal challenges made to help those rats who truly make the world go around, the more behind the scene secret changes are made to herd us all back into line. We are convinced that advancements in technology will enhance our lives and yet automation has created incredible job losses while assembly line products are pushed out at increasingly greater rates at lower costs. The products we all desire are more affordable yet more people are losing their ability to pay for their lives at modest levels. It is a crazy world out there. So what do we do? If you ask most people they don’t know. Everyone is bothered by the incredible disparity in the income gaps. They argue that there are too many uber rich people while the amount of people living under the poverty line seems to be increasing at an exorbitant rate. Something has to be done. The divide is too great. Well actually the divide is going backwards to the times when there were feudal lords who taxed those around them in exchange for keeping them safe in times of attack from others. It was and always will be about grabbing more and more for yourself and profiting on the backs of others. People bought in way back when just as they do today. But aren’t we smarter now? In some ways we are just as gullible as ever. Perhaps more so.
Here is an example. We have all heard of Jeff Bezos. Bright guy who started Amazon. Can’t get any richer than him. Well I guess someday someone probably will. During the Covid lockdowns Amazon made huge profits. There are grumbles from some of us mere mortals who think it is unfair. I have heard the complaints. My answer is always this. Then don’t use Amazon. Pretty easy I would think. But then the excuses come in. But I like the convenience. I am too busy to go out and buy it. I need it now. So what I an hearing is you think something should be done but you want someone else to do it. Oh you may think your voice doesn’t matter but it does. I shop at an organic/source local/natural type of store. When I pay I am given the option of keeping or donating a discount for using my own bags. It’s around 4 or 5 cents a bag. Means nothing to my bottom line on the grocery bill. But hundreds of shoppers donating their few pennies each month can end up with a fair size donation to a local charity. One voice may not be heard but many voices can make a difference.
The biggest problem as I see it is all of the little rats actually wanting to be part of the upper echelon. We need things to change so “I” can get more. Things need to be fair for “Me”. Well I saw an interview with Ronnie Raegan on Instagram and he commented that with all of the problems Americans faced, if you multiplied it by 3 they would still be doing better than most of the world. I live in Canada so although the problems are on a different scale the issue is the same. I don’t need to be reminded that my life is better than someone in Afghanistan. I want it to better than Bob down the street. This is fairly common in the developed nations. Really so much of our discontent comes from advertising. We are being tricked into believing everyone else is doing better. We feel happier when we get that new thing. For awhile. The wealthy nations have become throwaway societies. New clothes to follow the fashions of each season. When I look in my closet I realize that I could probably go to the end of my life with what I currently own. And yet I seldom buy anything new. I like odd and unique and I can buy used and transform it into something different. I bought a beautiful lace table runner at an antique store once and use it as a scarf. When a friend of my daughters complimented me and asked where I got it I told her. My daughter rolled her eyes and was somewhat embarrassed. But the friend loved the scarf. And who uses a table runner these days? No one.
I’m not saying don’t buy anything new. I’m not saying it’s bad to try and get ahead for your family. What I am saying is we need to recognize our contribution to the things we don’t like. We all fall prey to the ego at times. Its natural. The ego is very powerful. It is our ego that often has us competing against an invisible nemesis. I say invisible because pretty much all of this is made up in our heads. We build a belief system out of misperception often because we are spoon fed this through things like social media and television. My husbands sister was a prime example of this. They grew up in an alcoholic home. One of the common “traits” of adult children of alcoholics, according to Janet G. Woititz, author of the book of the same name, is they guess at what normal is. I used to comment to my husband that his sister really got so many of her ideas about how life should be from watching television. To her, what she saw was what she thought other people lived. Now I watched those same sitcoms but I came away with a different perspective. More judgement I think. First off, everyone had a beautiful home. They drove nice cars. Had nice clothes. Think Partridge family. A single Mom with five kids. She didn’t appear to have a job before the whole family band thing took off. So then I wonder what happened to the Dad. Maybe he had a good job. Money. Left them well to do. I assumed he died because I was not that familiar with the concept of divorce at that age. All I knew is that most people on TV seemed better off than my family. Even poor people. It wasn’t jealousy. It was an idea that I questioned all the time. Whereas it was an ideal that my sister in law thought was the norm.
What it comes down to is this. How do we find peace in a world that is constantly trying to manipulate us. Not even large scale manipulation like Putin. But small everyday manipulation. Do this, eat that, wear this, drive that. In a world where trickery and blatant lies are so rampant how do we weed our way through the muck? Well all I can say is this. When I start to get the feelings of want, I try and analyze the feeling. I have some great friends who also help me with this. I mentioned I was going to get rid of my truck and my girlfriend said “Why? Its a beautiful truck.” Well it has close to 400,000 km’s on it. For the Americans in the crowd, that is just under 250,000 miles. It is a 2005 SUV. There are some issues starting to happen which will cost close to $9,000 to fix. To buy the exact same vehicle would cost less than $9,000. Yet my very being is about not consuming more. Just fix it. But there is the lure of new. No worries it will break down. And new and shiny just feels so nice. For awhile. But then again I have AMA. They tow me everywhere for free. So just drive it til it drops. The truth is contentment is something you just can’t buy.
It is easy for me to feel little pressure from the outside world. I don’t get out much. I am a fairly self absorbed individual which comes from being an overthinker. Or perhaps vice versa. The ADHD brain sends me spinning off in different directions all the time so I often struggle to see what is happening in the world let alone have the energy to partake. I live in my mind. My own little world. I don’t struggle with anxiety or depression but I do have strong feelings when I see my children struggle. That’s normal I think. I look around my home and see signs of my mother the hoarder. There was a time I felt pressure to clean more. Present a tidy look to anyone who visits. Now I just go with what makes me comfortable. Clean bathroom and kitchen. I change things often. Many because I am bored. I make sure that meditation and yoga are at the forefront in my life to keep sanity in my world. When my son visits all attempts at routine stop as my life then seems to centre around visiting with him. I do nothing when he is around. It’s great. I clean when he leaves.
On the flip side I understand the lure of the new and perfect. Show homes. Car dealerships. Everything is beautiful. My home not so much. But I feel secure in my little box. I am surrounded by things I love. My books. Pictures of family. My garden. How it is ever changing. It brings me peace. I bought a new hot tub a few years back and the delivery guy commented on how many different seating areas were in my yard. He said it was a yard for entertaining. There is the front porch with a a small seating area at one end. Where my husband and I enjoyed our evening coffee. A bistro set at the other end where I would sometimes sit and write. The side yard with a bench amongst the massive blooms. The firepit with adirondack chairs. The pergola at the back with yet another seating area. Then there is the deck with a table to eat out at even though my hubby hated to eat outdoors. I looked around at what I created from that empty space 34 years ago and I love it. Yet I seldom entertain. My home is my sanctuary inside and out. Whenever I feel the urge to move I get a little sad. This is my home. Not just a house. My husband and I used to joke that we were so lucky that the Joneses never moved into our neighbourhood. There was no one to keep up with. While not entirely true, we seldom felt the need to get more and more.
Often the need to have more comes from the fear of not trusting others to keep care of us. Whether it is real or imagined it can cause us to live lives in a way that we don’t seem to need others. I am very independent and not one to ask for help. That is changing as I age but I do understand where it comes from. What events in my life made me this way. If we truly try we can see why people do what they do. Even if we disagree with their actions or beliefs with a little effort we can try and understand what led them to this place in time. For me it all comes down to the rat race. There is abundance in parts of the world. As a result we overconsume. This leads to more trash, more obesity, increase in self inflicted disease, more anxiety, more wants, more jealousy, more depression. More and more I see in my mind millions of rats running over each other trying to get to the front or the top. If you don’t see the manipulation of it all I would encourage you to try and analyze your feelings more closely. Or take a couple of economic classes. Micro and Macro. Just the 101 level. Fascinating if not truly confusing. Life moves on and the powers that be try and control both us and an accepted way of life. All I can say is from a historic standpoint no matter what was done to control economies, shit almost always went in a different direction than was intended. But we the rats are willing participants because we have the misguided notion that if we try hard enough, work hard enough, follow the rules and buy in… We will one day make it to the top of the heap. We truly think that there are those out there who have our best interests at heart in this hierarchy of life. So, if you want things to change, start with yourself. If you don’t like how the world works, fix your own little corner. If you think life’s not fair, you’re right. If you want that to change, start the movement. I’ve learned that if I am not willing to help with change, I have very little leg to stand on when it comes to complaining. And when I find I am being a whiner, I pull out the yoga mat and sit and reflect. Take a look inside. That’s when I realize this rat needs to put up or shut up! Excuse me while I go and call the mechanic. I need to fix my truck.