The late great comedian George Carlin laid out a framework for understanding a big chunk of behavior when he asked, "Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?"
That is how life feels, right? The early-20s backward baseball-cap wearing boychild in a Beemer speeding past must be crazy. And the early-80s grumpy gramps with sunglass lenses the size of truck tires dawdling along in the left lane is clearly a moron.
The right way to do it is just how I do it, no more and no less, our self-centered cerebellums tell us, and not just with driving. People who eat better, work out harder and maintain lower body-fat percentages than me? Obsessives who need to get a life. People who eat worse, work out less and maintain higher body-fat percentages than me?
They’re mythical creatures, like unicorns or deficit hawks. But if I ever do find anyone that slovenly, I’ll be judging them so hard I’ll need a black robe and a white wig for the job.
Deep down many of us feel the definition of normal behavior is however we act, and see any deviations as aberrant and wrong. We humans tend to experience the world as a movie about our own lives in which everyone else is just there to support the plot.
So it shouldn’t shock us that COVID-19 is no different.
Many of us are doing our best to be careful, and maybe lying to ourselves a bit about it in the process? When the Beloved Sapling asked me why I felt all right about having six guests over for my 50th birthday/Hannukah extravaganza next month, tentatively titled "Feel the Joy, Eat the Latkes, Bring a Shamefully Extravagant Gift!" my answer was garbled.
It probably doesn’t make sense, except that it’s less maniacal than the 200 guests a lunatic would have and less tentative than the Campbell’s soup for one that a complete fearfish would settle for.
"How many are you having for Thanksgiving?" is set to become the new standard of judgment, with every answer a wrong one but our own. "Fifteen? So you’re basically a mass murderer then!" we’ll tell one friend, while excoriating another for refusing to let his mom come by for a bite of bird.
Those who won’t mask up look like dangerous buffoons, and they are. But the uber-careful folks who wear masks on mostly empty streets seem nearly as crazy, albeit in a much more acceptable way. We see a guy riding alone in a car with a mask on and think "Now that’s just insane," and a day later realize we’re still wearing ours 20 minutes after we left the grocery store.
To be clear, this is not one of those issues where everyone needs to be tolerant of each others’ point of view. Those who refuse to mask and distance and limit social gatherings are endangering all of us.
But it is a situation in which the behavior we ought to focus on if we want to make things safer is our own. I’m the maniac when I foolishly throw caution to the wind, and I’d be the idiot if I gave up every joy and relationship in my life to curry to fear.
And keeping myself in order ought to keep me too busy to worry much about how many guests are gathering for a gulp of your giblet gravy.
Lane Filler is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.