Back on the chain gang

I received a chain message today, the first one in quite a while. It’s one that I’ve received before. It claims be advice on how to live your life fully. There’s no harm in that. Someone cared enough to forward it to me and that’s nice too.

But these things really annoy me because they preface their sage advice with warnings of impending doom if you do not forward the message to everyone you know within the next 6 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a carrot too: your life will improve if you send it along to the people you care about. I don’t believe that one way or the other, but the current incarnation of the message takes exception to this:

It must leave your hands in 6 MINUTES. Otherwise you will get a very unpleasant surprise. This is true, even if you are not superstitious, agnostic, or otherwise faith impaired.

Well! I am not superstitious, and I’m exceedingly agnostic. I’m not even sure I understand what “faith impaired” means. Is it like “vision impaired”? I take some exception to the fact that if this message doesn’t leave my hand within 6 minutes, I will get a very unpleasant surprise.

Of course, I don’t actually believe that I will get a very unpleasant surprise. The fact is, I may very well get an unpleasant surprise, but there is no causal relationship between the unpleasant surprise and my lack of action. Instead, it would merely be an unfortunate coincidence.

People want their lives to improve, but they don’t want to do the work necessary to improve them. Instead, they want to forward an email around and wait for the improvements to happen as if by magic.

Not all of the “advice” in the message is bad. Some are more amusing than others, however:

Give people more than they expect and do it cheerfully.

Certainly getting the chain letter was more than I expected. I don’t know whether the sender was cheerful when they sent it. One might deduce, however, that they were desperate to improve their life.

Marry a man/woman you love to talk to. As you get older, their conversational skills will be as important as any other.

As an alternative, marry a man/woman to whom you like to write or send email. As you get older, you will have someone to whom you can forward all of the chain email letters you receive. The reciprocal nature of the relationship should, according to this chain letter, doubly improve your lives together.

Don’t judge people by their relatives.

Relatively speaking, I’d say this is good advice. But why limit it to relatives? Why not simply say, “Don’t judge people”?

Don’t believe all you hear, spend all you have, or sleep all you want.

This is my favorite. Don’t believe all you hear. I wholeheartedly agree, which is why I don’t believe any of the rewards and admonitions contained in the chain letter. What is particularly amusing about this statement is not that it contradicts the spirit of the chain letter. Instead, its the mutual exclusivity of the statement. Note that it’s not an “and” statement, but an “or” statement. Essentially, what this is saying is: choose one of the following: don’t believe all you hear or spend all you have or sleep all you want. Why can’t you do all three?

Actually, maybe it makes sense after all. If you choose not to believe all you hear, then by definition, you may choose not to spend all you have and sleep all you want. If you spend all you have, you will clearly not be able to sleep all you want because you will working three jobs to get back what you had. If you sleep all you want, however, you will have some trouble spending all you have, especially if you sleep a lot. So maybe that’s a good thing.

But really, what’s the big deal? It’s just another chain letter, one of many. Doesn’t it count for anything that someone thought enough of me to forward this along to me? After all, it means that there are people out there who are thinking about me. Well, it’s a pleasant thought, but skeptic that I am, I simply don’t believe it. Why?

The message was sent to “undisclosed recipients”, which means it was BCC’d to a long list of people. 9 out of 10 times, that means that someone sent the message to everyone in their address book. There may be people in the address book that haven’t been thought of in years. It’s possible that’s not the case here, but I’m just too skeptical to think otherwise.

I think the list of advice for leading a happy life is missing one item:

Always be considerate of your friends and family; never send them chain letters.

I realize that mine is probably not the most popular opinion on the matter, and that people might even find my attitude rude. Well, I’m sorry about that, but that’s how I feel about chain letters. Want to show someone you care about them? Be honest with them.


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