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Is there not a moment's peace?

THE EARLIEST INSTANCE OF NAGGING may be found in the Good Book with the story of Adam and Eve. Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and then enticed a reluctant Adam to do the same, with the result that both were thrown out of Paradise. With this story, women were marked as seducers and naggers and have had that reputation ever since.

Nit-picking philosophers

The history of philosophy suggests that the nit-picking of Socrates' wife drove him out into the streets of the Agora, where he became the number-one nagger of the Athenians. He constantly badgered them with questions he himself could not answer. Seeing himself in the role of a midwife, he maintained that he was sterile and could not give birth to ideas. Yet, he could help others do so. However, his nagging irritated and humiliated the citizenry to the point that they put him to death.

Is nagging our life's companion? We sense the meaning of the word when experiencing a nagging headache or a nagging backache. There seems to be no relief while the pain constantly grinds away at us. The dictionary describes it as "to pester, to annoy, constant scolding, complaining, or urging." Old Norse defines it as "to bite a racehorse [that never wins] with contempt--making it a nag."

Get off my back

Given these definitions, it seems we are nagged from the cradle to the grave. In childhood, our mothers always were on our back, telling us to clean up our room, wash our hands, sit up straight. walk erect, do our homework before going out to play, come home on time, say our prayers--the list was endless. That is one reason why most older teenagers cannot wait to be on their own in the world. (Come to think of it, perhaps this is not a bad ploy.)

The parents' aim, of course, is to help their offspring be disciplined. These verbal prods are necessary, as character is first formed from the outside. Doubters are referred to children raised by permissive should one say neglectful--parents. Kids, for their part, feel as if they are being picked on and constantly bawled out. The irony is that had they done what they were told in the first place, the scolding would have ceased.

Yet, escaping the parental nest provides no respite from nagging. Today, the media--especially TV--has taken over the roles of parents and teachers. There are agonizingly tiresome commercials, incessantly urging us to look after our health, in turn pushing us to buy this or that brand of low-calorie foods, low-fat products, cholesterol-controlling medication, and aspirin to forestall heart attacks and strokes, etc. In tuna, we nag our doctors, demanding a particular drug, refusing to accept any substitute. We are harangued to slim down and exercise more in order to live an extra 10 years. (They do not question whether some of us would substitute the quality of life for its quantity.) Is the media really interested in our health or merely advertising revenue? After all, what of all the spots for junk food like burgers, fries, and shakes? What marketing genius suggested changing Kentucky Fried Chicken to KFC so as not to call attention to the fact that fried foods are considered taboo?

Even Santa is hounded

At Christmas, meanwhile, kids get a chance to turn the table on their parents by nagging them to buy this toy or that game. All expensive, of course. Thus, even good old Santa Claus is hounded. The holidays also are a time when the churches start intoning about their extra expenses, urging parishioners to fill the collection boxes. "To give is better than to receive," is a constant echo from the pulpit.

Procrastinators are the most likely candidates for being nagged. When they hear, "I don't mean to lecture, but ..." all their attention immediately is other-directed. High on the list of conscience-raisers are the tree-hugging environmentalists, who practically forbid one to step on a fallen leaf, and woe betide anybody who fails to recycle cans, bottles, and newspapers. Moreover, do not even think about exploring the topic of SUVs with them, lest you hear, "What would Jesus drive?" These do-gooders even berate us for using antibacterial soap, as they claim it will produce resistant bacteria.

Leading the good life

When all is said and done usually--more is said than done-most of us make up our own minds about how we should live. One cannot close this essay without reminding the reader that a certain amount of a self-regulating conscience is necessary for the good life--meaning the moral life rather than the life of good times.

Gerald F. Kreyche, American Thought Editor of USA Today, is professor emeritus of philosophy, DePaul University, Chicago, Ill.
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Title Annotation:Parting Thoughts
Author:Kreyche, Gerald F.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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