September 23, 2007

Everybody needs a philosophy. A simple line you tell yourself that instantly curbs the desire to say or do something that you'll regret.

I dated someone once whose philosophy was: never say never. Or, as I saw it: create false hope. Nothing was ever definite. And anything's possible. He'd swear he didn't want to get married again. Then he'd add: "Although, who knows? I never say never." What he really meant was: "I may get married again, just not to you."

My friend Heather had a great philosophy: enjoy the moment. The problem was, she kept pushing it on me. I have enough trouble living in the moment. I have to enjoy it too? But she was determined, and the more she expected to enjoy the moment, the less it happened. So now she has a new philosophy: no regrets.

That's the beauty of having a philosophy. When it doesn't work, you just adopt a new one.

I don't know what my personal philosophy is any more. It used to be: question everything. But that was exhausting. Plus, it annoyed people. Besides, it's already my nature to be suspicious. I don't need a philosophy that makes life more complicated.

Next I tested out live and let live. If someone did something that bothered me, I reminded myself to let it go. Unless they broke a plan at the last minute. Or kept me on hold while they took another call. Or forgot to return an e-mail. So much for live and let live.

I've gone through a bunch of philosophies. Most of them didn't stick. I'm currently trying out: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The other day was a good test. My friend Jack called in a panic. Sounding hysterical. He left a message on my voicemail at 7am. "You will get an e-mail that says 'For Amanda' in the subject line," he said. "Please do not open it. It's private."

I sat at my computer and stared at the unopened e-mail. As someone with a predilection for snooping, this was like heroin. It would be so easy to take a peek - he'd never know. What did it say? Who was Amanda? What could have provoked this mild-mannered man to sound so terrified? He's a soldier. He's been shot at. Yet the thought of being emotionally vulnerable had him gripped with fear.

I began to think of reasons he wouldn't want me to see it. Maybe he confessed he was a spy. Or gay. Or even better: a gay spy. Why wouldn't he want me to know that? I wouldn't care. It had to be something else. Something I would care about. Maybe it mentioned me. It was excruciating and I was desperate to read it. But I called him back and promised I wouldn't open it.

"That doesn't mean someone else couldn't read it," Liza said. Meaning I could have forwarded it to her, let her read it, tell me what it said, and still have respected his wishes.

I briefly considered this option. But then I thought how, if it were me who had inadvertently sent an e-mail, I would hope that a friend wouldn't open it. So I pressed delete.

Of course, if it did happen to me and I was told that it had been deleted unread, I'd still wonder if they were telling me the truth.

And therein lies the one philosophy I always return to: trust no one.