Another guilty pleasure: I enjoy reading advice columns. I often end up nitpicking over them or laughing at them, or both, depending on the time of day and the column. Most of the advice is patently ridiculous, and in the case of some columnists, borderline offensive. Which makes it all the more fun to read and dissect.
One that always annoyed me though, without being amusing or aggravating, just dull, was Dear Abby’s “Pennies from Heaven” feature. If you are unfamiliar with it, “Pennies from Heaven” consists of readers sending in soppy stories about how after a friend died or another tragic, life changing event happened, the poor souls find a penny with a date that they attach some significance to, such as the year of the dead person’s birth, or the year they met, or another significant occurrence, and take it to mean that the dead person is “watching over them”. Every once in a while one of those types of letters comes up, and Dear Abby will write a little encouraging note to them.
I have had a hard time believing why this practice bugs me so much. I steadfastly believe in not dolloping criticism on the personal beliefs of others, so long as those beliefs don’t impede on the freedom, rights, or happiness of other people. Compared to other, much more hurtful ways that people exercise their beliefs, the “Pennies from Heaven” schlock is downright banal. But it hit me tonight why it bothers me so much: There’s no polite way to simultaneously tell people you’re glad it brings them comfort and essentially distance yourself from endorsing the belief yourself. I’ve tried, “That’s very nice.” to no effect, and others, but the penny people press me until I’m forced to admit that I don’t particularly believe in or find comfort in the idea of Heaven, God, angels, or life after death. The penny pushers are the type who espouse the greatness of a power greater than themselves (Much like the system employed by AA, which I’ll write about later) and generally assume everyone will share this view, and when you don’t, they take it as a personal offence, thinking you’re pooh-poohing all over their wonderful tale.
Really, I wish I knew a better way to deal with them, other than hoping tomorrow’s advice column is less schmaltzy.