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Whose Life Is It?

George McGovern
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 1)

As the former owner of a Connecticut inn, I always allowed my adult guests wide latitude in their habits. Scotch was available at dinner, and there were convenient designated areas for smokers.

Today, however, there are those who would deny others the choice to eat meat, wear fur, drink coffee or simply eat extra-large portions of food, to give a few examples. Wearing perfume in public raises the ire of certain organized interest groups.

While on any day each of us may identify with the restrictive nature of a given campaign, there is a much larger issue here. Where do we draw the line on dictating to each other? How many of these battles can we stand? Whose values should prevail?

Life in America has remained relatively peaceful compared with that in other societies. But we are becoming less tolerant and more mean-spirited in everyday social interactions. We have become less forgiving. Suing institutions as well as each other for perceived harms has become a ruinous sport.

It was reported in June that a 61-year-old man, Norman Mayo, is suing Safeway and the Washington State dairy industry for failing to warn about the dangers of drinking whole milk. A self-described "milk-aholic," Mayo wants warning labels on all milk cartons to protect others. Where does this end?

Some issues, like the proper treatment of animals, deserve public debate. But that doesn't mean activists should assault people who wear furs, destroy animal research laboratories or firebomb restaurants that serve meat. These actions transform differences of opinion into dangerous intolerance and intimidation.

On other issues, such as gambling, the messages can be confusing. Is casino gambling a moralistic issue when state lotteries and horse racing are socially acceptable? Is the stock market different, or is it just a harder game to understand?

New attempts to regulate behavior are coming from both the right and the left, depending only on the cause. But there are those of us who don't want the tyranny of the majority (or the outspoken minority) to stop us from leading our lives in ways that have little impact on others.

While the choices we make may be foolish or self-destructive-bungee jumping is my favorite example of insanity-there is still the overriding principle that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other's lives.

When is the thrill too risky? How many drinks are too many? When is secondhand smoke too thick? All of these questions need to be considered with some measure of tolerance for the choices of others.


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