THERE'S NO question that too many of us are awash in stress, not doing enough to relieve it, and falling ill or even dying from it. Stress takes a big toll, day in, day out.
So it's hard to thoroughly make light of the Denver drive that gathered enough signatures - just 2,462 - to put to an unprecedented vote this November whether the city should be required to increase "peacefulness" by identifying and providing "scientifically proven" stress-relief programs "shown to be of net financial benefit."
After all, who couldn't use a massage? Or to parrot the initiative's promoters, if effective stress-relief techniques were more widely available, wouldn't we be better off - and hence act better toward each other?
But there's more at work here than just some idealistic grass-roots activists gone overboard California-style.
The leader of Denver's "Safety Through Peace" initiative - casting it as merely "an alternative form of city garbage collection" - talks of soothing music in public spaces or more nutritious school lunches. But the initiative has direct ties to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation movement and the political agenda of its Natural Law Party. And it appears to be another in the long history of TM efforts to tap public funds; it's hard to imagine TM proponents wouldn't be among the first to seek Denver's backing for their claimed "scientifically proven" stress-buster.
We're not particularly eager to argue with a yogi, let alone the Beatles' former guru. A growing body of studies shows the health benefits of various forms of meditation. But TM's frequent claims of its far broader social impact have been disputed, if not refuted.
There's good reason to treat TM as a mix of religion, cult and business - one selling some questionable notions, such as world peace arising from mass meditation or the ability of TM practitioners to levitate. This time around in Denver, add another airy claim: that stress-relief programs somehow would lead to a $1 billion net financial benefit for Colorado.
Let's all meditate, if we like. Take a walk. Listen to music. But let's not ask taxpayers anywhere to pay for it. We should see to our own chilling out, thank you very much. In this case, the only mass stress-reduction technique we'd advise is the time-tested one of resisting those who would employ government to impose their spiritual or business agendas on the rest of us.