Fall 2007

Dear Catherine,
I am a woman who feels happy with my life. I’m healthy, in a loving relationship, and enjoy my friends, family, and work. Yet, I often feel bothered by our society’s obsession with youth and celebrity and what seems like the media’s near-constant message that the only interesting, attractive, worthwhile thing to be is young and famous. Although I know that these banal values are absurd, I resent being bombarded by them and then having to expend the mental energy to reject them. So, my question is, how can I remain unaffected by something that seems so insidious while still being engaged with the realities of our culture? With kind regards,
LS,
Santa Monica, CA

Dear LS,
Much of the mainstream media these days is a form of advertising. Its purpose is to sell us things and make us want more. One of the ways it accomplishes this is by pounding images of youth and celebrity into the collective psyche. We think we see the good life being lived by the young, rich, and glamorous. We watch what they are wearing, what they are driving, what cosmetics they are using, what clubs they frequent. We somehow overlook the travails, reported with the regularity of a metronome, of the actual lives of many of those same icons, and we instead dream of someday living our own version of a glorified life similar to theirs. It is all in imagination. Snap out of it and know that real happiness is found in exactly the circumstances you have described – a loving relationship, friends, family, and work. It would be a shame to miss the wonderful life you have in favor of a dream that does not exist for you and may not even exist for those we are watching on the public stage.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
My husband and I are in our late seventies. When we were young, we started a few restaurants that eventually grew into a chain, which we sold for a great deal of money. Our only son never wanted for a thing in his entire life. The trouble is that he is now in his mid forties and has never developed a work ethic, never had a job, and seemingly has no ability to cope with having to make his way in the world. We have allowed him to live at our own level of wealth without working to get there. We now wonder if we have made a big mistake and we worry that when we are gone, even though he will have a large inheritance, he could make bad decisions and lose his inheritance through divorce or bad business arrangements with others or any number of unforeseeable things. There are no guarantees in this world, and we have protected our son from that harsh truth, which we now regret. Any advice would be appreciated.
AM,
San Francisco CA

Dear AM,
Everything you did for your son, you did for love. It is often painful to review our past actions through the wisdom of our present understanding. Please don’t beat yourselves up about this. It is a common occurrence, typical through the ages (the upper class of England comes to mind) that wealthy people shower their children with everything they can provide and that this entitlement often fosters a lack of innovation and scrappy creativity. Perhaps you can structure the inheritance in some manner that inhibits others getting their hands on it, or dole it out in a ladder of payments, or have someone you deeply trust be the executor of the estate. If a worst-case scenario occurs and all the money disappears, your son may have to call on resources he doesn’t know he has and, who knows, it may be the best thing for him. Many years ago a friend of mine gave her entire inheritance to a famous guru. She, too, had never worked or struggled for money and initially seemed unfit for those endeavors. But after a period of intense economic hardship, she went to school and became an acupuncturist. She now has a thriving practice as well as a confidence and dignity she had never known.
Catherine