How many professions are there that seem to face a constant barrage of bad news with something approaching equanimity ... or anyway a willingness to remain in that profession? Cops come to mind -- out of bed every day, hitting the street, and constantly encouraged to think the worst of people. It's no wonder to me that later in life so many decide to 'eat a bullet.' Or emergency-room workers, who have an advantage over cops because they do what they can to nourish and protect. Or those in the ministering professions, constantly bombarded with the foibles and frailties and whining of their fellow men and whose profession requires them to buck up the weary and forlorn. 'Compassion' may be their calling, but how exhausting it must get, listening and ministering to nothing but bad news, difficulty and whining.
A friend of mine spoke with cranky determination the other day as we chatted on the phone: "I hate whining," he said. But his back hurt and it was one of a series of old-age plaints I could sympathize with and was willing to hear about because ... because I might do the same and since the two of us forgave the bad news in each other because there was good news as well -- dirty jokes and laughter and discussions of subjects we both took seriously. He didn't prey on me and I tried not to prey on him with bad news. We might share bad news, but we didn't make it a profession.
There are people who seem to think it's acceptable to prey on others with their bad news. Like the blackmail of the stereotyped "Jewish mother," they seek out and suck dry the kindness others may be willing to exhibit. They demand it like some tantrum-prone child. Me, me, me, me, me .....
And it makes me think of the old, but seldom enunciated, Christian prayer: "Dear Lord, please give this person a swift kick in the ass." And I suppose the prayer is directed as much as anything to a mind -- my own -- which could just as easily find a laundry list of bad news. But since everyone has a similar laundry list, the question does arise, "What makes you think I want to add to mine?"
Once, when I was doing house painting for a woman I liked, I heard my employer on the phone with her mother. "Mom," she said, "I don't feel too well today. I'm not in the mood for a bunch of bad news." What a nice, clear statement ... not that her mother let up, judging by the length of the ensuing conversation.
Sometimes I think it's no wonder people talk about the weather or sports, two sexless subjects that contain little human excitement: It's an extreme version of 'not whining.' It's a way of saying there is control and discipline and no-worries. And of course it's boring because people are more interesting than that. But the other end of the spectrum is equally boring and equally annoying ... the presumption that what concerns me must, somehow, concern everyone else.
I don't know the balance point between the extremes, but one thing's for sure: I'm glad I am not a minister or some sort of similar 'helper.' That gives me the option of suggesting the person take their bad news elsewhere.