February 08, 2018
NEW YORK—Apparently a whole bunch of CEOs and public officials and celebrities and high sheriffs of various sorts have been writhing around in their mahogany offices, screaming in agony.
I speak, of course, of the painful decision.
If somebody calls a press conference and starts out, “Regrettably, we have made the painful decision…”
…you may be shocked and astounded to find out by the end of that sentence that all of your assumptions about pain itself are incorrect. It’s not the guy getting fired who’s in pain, it’s the guy who fired him. It’s not the thousand workers being laid off who are experiencing discomfort, we should focus on the guy who’s laying them off. It’s not the family members of the missing person who are in unbearable agony, it’s the police official calling off the search.
It’s an adult version of the old “This is gonna hurt me more than it hurts you,” which is what your dad says before he whales the crap out of you.
Guess what? It doesn’t hurt Daddy more than it hurts you. And it doesn’t hurt the guy who goes back to the C-suite and downs a couple of single malts, either. It’s actually the apex of being a self-centered creep to say “Don’t look at the situation here and the people that are about to get nuked—LOOK AT ME, DAMMIT, I’M A TORTURED SADIST.”
Jon McTaggart, the president of Minnesota Public Radio, is so good at the painful decision that he made two of them in one month. His first one was to fire Garrison Keillor—“a painful decision, one that we did not make lightly.” Then, when Garrison was not sufficiently remorseful, he held a press conference to make yet another painful decision, to release the details of his investigation into Garrison’s conduct. This was a guy experiencing so much pain on our behalf that he had to kill the guy twice.
Then there’s James Comey, who made the “painful decision” to reopen the Hillary Clinton email investigation eleven days before the election. It was so painful for James that I can’t possibly understand why Hillary is still talking about it today—doesn’t she recognize the Shakespearean anguish of law enforcement officials?
And who doesn’t feel sorry for Lena Dunham, the actress who made the “painful decision” to send her adopted dog, Lamby, back to the shelter after he’d already become accustomed to living with her for four years? I’m surprised Lena didn’t have to check into the asylum, her body racked by excruciating emotional pain. Lamby, on the other hand, was spared further emotional shock from watching Lena copulate with tattooed geeky-boys.
Pain abounds among the employed and powerful.
Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College in New York, had to make the “painful decision” to refuse enrollment to a thousand low-income students who probably won’t go to college at all now, because that’s the only college they could afford.
Congressman Mike Coffman and his wife, Colorado attorney general Cynthia Coffman, made a joint painful decision “after much soul-searching.”
I forgot the “soul-searching” part, by the way. All painful decisions are accompanied by soul-searching. The Coffmans searched their souls and decided on a divorce after twelve years of marriage. If you’re going to announce a painful decision, especially one that would normally remain private, then you should probably go ahead and give details. Why was it painful? Did Mike leave the toilet seat up? Did Cynthia have a one-night stand with a beefcake stripper from the Thunder Down Under All-Male Revue? If you want us to empathize with your pain, then come on, let’s go, give it up, spill.
In fact, if we ever establish rules for painful decisions, can we just get rid of the end-of-relationship press conference entirely? Yes, I know it was a “painful decision” to throw all his stuff out on the street. We could probably go on Facebook any given day and find 17 million painful decisions involving two people who decide eternal love has turned into blotchy mascara and “I never liked your mother, either.”
A woman named Megan Webb wrote a widely circulated article about her “painful decision,” at age 32, to stop teaching elementary school in Palm Beach and get a job that pays more. When she gets that first check, with the additional 50 percent income, she might be in so much pain that she’ll have to move somewhere less affluent, like Beverly Hills.
Sometimes even whole organizations can experience this sort of pain. If you go to the website of Mednet of Maine, a Preferred Provider Organization for health care, you get the following message: “Mednet has made the painful decision to close its doors effective 08/31/17.” All the people who can no longer afford to go to the doctor are presumably sending wreaths and letters of condolence to Mednet headquarters.
Superstar entertainers probably make more painful decisions than any other single group. Toni Braxton made the “painful decision” to break away from her sisters and go solo. Lionel Richie made the “painful decision” to leave the Commodores. Every time a musician switches labels or an actor changes managers, the decision is so painful that all the people who are thrown out of work because the star went somewhere else are no doubt ashamed of being alive, since their devotion to that person’s career resulted in so much agony.