Zig Ziglar came to Bismarck recently. (My husband, who doesn’t do aerobics, likes his finger of Cutty before bed, and is understandably paranoid about his decadent life-style, says it feels to him as if Zig comes here once a month.) A lot of people I know went to the performance, and many bought Zig’s books and tapes right there on the spot, being filled with the natural high that an hour of good clean living can produce.

What did Zig come to tell us? Nothing less than how to break bad habits, work to our full human potential, and spring out of bed in the morning every morning-to greet the day se cure in the knowledge that we’re free of chemical and attitudinal impurities.

I’m happy to announce-and I’m sure Zig’s happy to have me announce-that he will never work himself out of a job. There will always be a place for him and others like him on our podiums in front of record crowds. Zig is a drug, and when we come down from swallowing him whole, we have to face an ugly fact of life: We love the way we are. 

What self-help advocates refuse to acknowledge (and if we ever decide to truly help ourselves, what will become of their book sales?) is that human inertia, our disinclination to stop bad habits and start good ones, is heartfelt and-important in this era of unpronounceable additives-100 percent natural.

How long have we known. that smoking might kill us, that French fries attach their mushy innards directly to the interiors of our arteries, that seatbelts are better than nothing? For ever, it seems. But up until the relatively recent frenzy of “smoke-outs” (telling title, that), “a la heart” menus, seatbelt commercials, and all the other suddenly fashionable attacks on our brittle spheres of individual freedom or ego, who among us cared much? Not many. And if all these campaigns were halted tomorrow, not many would have permanently altered their life styles.

Our magnificent inertia doesn’t apply only to life-and-death matters. Remember the awful “Metric Scare”? Every so often, radio spots and news releases, produced inside the Beltway for consumption in Podunk, would leak like toxic waste into our feeling of well-being: Learn metric or be the laughingstock of your friends and loved ones. Don’t get left behind in your career by those who can read the hand writing on the wall. We all knew better. That handwriting was merely government graffiti, scrawled by hoodlums in the high five figures. We knew that if “they” really thought it was important we’d be made to comply, as we’re made to crawl along prairie interstates at 55 miles an hour and sit behind exploding airbags in new cars. And we’ve been vindicated: The “Metric Scare” passed like a thief in the night, stealing only our tax dollars, leaving us unscathed to tell the story to disbelieving grandchildren.

Most recently it’s been the nine digit zip code, which the USPS says will help our mail get there faster and more efficiently. Obviously, 999 out of 1,000 other Americans agree with me that our mail service is stupendous just the way it is, because that’s the ratio of non-zip-plus-four to zip-plus-four mail I receive. Some letters addressed to me (never those sent by me, let me hasten to add) are even, pardon the expression, zipless, and still they saunter in. The occasional zip-plus-four address cowers among my other mail like a virgin at an Aztec convention.

Let’s face it: Self-preservation is not our strongest instinct; is, in fact, an impossibility. We know we’re only tourists here, so why not see the sights before the bus pulls out? Our innocent vices and our mulishness where it matters least are a large part of what makes us human. Humanhood alone has the wits to luxuriate in the status quo-to understand that life is a gift, meant to be enjoyed-and the raw determination to sometimes transgress that status quo if it means a real reward. Humanhood alone can look up from a plate of fried chicken livers, light a cigar, drain the last of the wine, and, perfectly aware that such habits are unhealthy for the body, say, with conviction, I AM okay! You ARE okay!-and be correct. The feast of the soul is a strictly human event.

As I was telling my husband just the other night, I could never love a man who was totally perfect It seemed to reassure him. What it comes down to is that people who never smoke, never drink, never gossip or tell dirty jokes or swear, never compete too hard or take defeat personally-people who grimly jog 10 miles a day, smirk as they load their plate with the dregs of the food chain, and never permit themselves a good sulk or a moment of despair such people are too good to be among us, and we wish they would go away.