Bitter or Wise?

I’ve only recently become a fan of Marc Maron. How I have followed stand-up comedy for this long, and managed to miss him until now, is an issue for me to deal with another time. Either way, I’ve found him and I’m happy about that. After listening to his acts, I tried to listen to his podcast, managing to do little more than prove to myself, yet again, that podcasts aren’t my thing. After that, I gave his show a shot, which was a worthwhile endeavor, since I generally enjoy watching Marc Maron be Marc Maron.

Maron uses scenes of his podcast to establish the theme or tone of each episode, much in the same way that Louie C.K. or Seinfeld use(d) pieces of their stand up in their own shows. In one of these podcast monologue scenes, Maron talks about life and pain and making meaning and all that sort of existential stuff, and he says this – “Are you going to be bitter, or are you going to be wise?”

That phrase struck me as more profound than it should have.

Our choice is to be bitter, or wise, and there is no middle ground. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with it. Obviously, given the choice, we would all take wisdom. But wisdom isn’t taken, it’s earned. A person earns wisdom through experiences, success, failure, learning, or any other combination of words you might want to use in place of those. No matter what words you choose, it all boils down to this:

Wisdom requires work.

As a generation, we are horrifically jaded and bitter about just about everything. Nothing is good enough. No matter where we find ourselves, we are always looking just above us at what we don’t have and where we aren’t. In a cultural vacuum, this could be a positive generational attribute – we are tenacious, ambitious, and driven. Really, though, a lot of us are just selfish and greedy, and get pretty upset when we aren’t firmly established as upper-middle class and coasting into retirement by the time we hit our thirties.

We are bitter because we refuse to acknowledge reality. We shun facts that do not agree with our chosen reality. I see this in my own life – I don’t earn enough to maintain my household alone, which means my wife can’t be a stay at home mother. In truth, few people of my generation can, but I ignore this fact and spend a good bit of time brooding about this.

Snowflakes aren’t in the business of failure, so we avoid it at all cost. Many of us give up as soon as failure crests the horizon, never to try again. We stick to things we are good at, things that validate the idea that has been pumped into us since childhood – we are special and brilliant and unique and probably the single most important thing in the world. Any significant failure sends this truth crashing down around us in a squall of contradictory facts.

Choosing to avoid failure means that we miss out on opportunities to learn and develop. Not to mention the whole idea that things we are terrible at doing at first, often become things we enjoy after some time and practice. I play guitar, but I was completely awful when I first started. Had I decided to throw in the towel and rely on specialness to get me through, I wouldn’t have this handy stress reliever (and all around fun hobby) today.

We are trading self-awareness for self-worship and rampant exceptionalism.

Refusing to acknowledge reality (mostly our own shortcomings) and/or failure, essentially means that we are refusing to learn. Without learning, there cannot be wisdom. Continuing to buy the lies we were sold as children perpetuates a generation of happless, bitter adults.

So, what’s it going to be, are you going to be bitter, or are you going to be wise?

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8 comments

  1. Great post.

    A similar line from a far different source struck me much in the same way. In a cut from his album, “Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball,” Shel Silverstein being questioned by a female voice admits to once having had an STD. She then asks him, “did you grow wiser from the experience?”

    Those words resonated then and still do today.

    Liked by 1 person

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