Pandora’s Devices: Managing the Miseries of the Machine
Marriage is weird, Lincoln was wise, and six words that can transform a relationship
We had a bad feeling about our new neighbor, Jeff, when we saw the 12-inch cannabis bong on the table of his back patio, standing proudly. A “bong”, if you’ve never heard the word, is a glass water pipe used for smoking.
Jeff smoked pot before sunrise. He smoked multiple times through the morning and afternoon and evening, and into the late hours, and sometimes in the middle of the night. We knew this not only by the skunky smell that wafted into our yard, but because Jeff had a deep, hoarse, wet cough. When Jeff started coughing it was like Godzilla hacking up pieces of downtown Tokyo.
We could hear it anywhere in our house, even with the windows closed. We couldn’t enjoy our meals in the backyard, or any time in the backyard at all, as Jeff would invariably end up puffing up a storm. What could we do? We certainly couldn’t complain he was doing anything wrong, since recreational cannabis use is legal here (not just decriminalized). We felt powerless. Irritable. Outraged. But we knew we had to do something.
Our overriding instinct was to rail at our Gen Z cannabis-hooked neighbor over the wooden fence that separated our yards. “Don’t you have any idea how disruptive your pot-smoking is? Don’t you notice we have children? Don’t you have any awareness of the world around you? Don’t you, don’t you, don’t you…?”
Then we made a fateful decision that would change our relationship with Jeff forever. We collected some eggs that our chickens had just laid, and called out to Jeff over the fence: “Hey Jeff, we’ve got something for you.” No, we didn’t throw the eggs at him. They were a gift.
The purpose of the gift was not to placate Jeff, since he wasn’t the angry one. He was rather cheerful actually. The purpose of the gift—though we didn’t quite realize it at the time—was to create a shift in our own perception of Jeff. Through an act of benevolence, we instantly replaced the idea of punishing Jeff with being generous to Jeff. We changed as a result.
Suddenly our outrage vanished. Our irritation didn’t go away, but we could laugh about it sometimes. We even felt comfortable enough to ask Jeff if he might refrain from smoking whenever we happened to be outside having a meal. And Jeff was perfectly agreeable with that.
We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbour.
- G. K. Chesterton
The ancient Greeks gave us the myth of Pandora, who received a cursed wedding present in the form of a box that, when she opened it, unleashed misery and evil on the world. The situation with Jeff presented us with a kind of Pandora’s Box. We had to decide whether to open the box—to speak up about his behavior and risk offending him, which might unleash conflict and make the situation worse—versus attempting some other action.
Not everything that spills out of Pandora’s Box causes outrage. Sometimes it unleashes milder reactions. In some cases we might even want to open our Pandora’s Box, so that others can see who we really are, even if they don’t like it.
We recently attended a wedding. It was a simple ceremony, bracingly traditional. The procession was led by a young girl holding a six-foot cross. We sang O Love, How Deep, whose text goes back to the 15th century, attributed to Thomas à Kempis who wrote The Imitation of Christ. The vows were traditional too, comparing the union of husband and wife to the union of Christ and the Church.
When you think about it, marriage is a unique thing. Even a weird thing. There is no other relationship in the world where two complete strangers come together, and each decides that the other person will be at the center of their own life, and that they will both keep this center permanently, to the exclusion of all other such relationships, until death.
That makes no sense in a world where almost everything is refundable, or redefinable.points out that having an affair is now considered by some an act of “self-care”. No wonder marriage can make some people cringe.
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