Tuesday, October 12, 2010

To Everything, a Season

Many years ago, I had a very good friend who was a Jehovah's Witness. The friendship would not have persisted over more than a decade, starting in our late teens, had M. pushed his beliefs on me. He was very respectful. But I remember one visit when we were in our mid-twenties, when he finally showed me one of his pamphlets. I had a look-through out of curiosity and was appalled. I had never heard of the Rapture - that fundamentalist Christian belief in some sort of global purge and selection of the holy - so the pamphlet was my first taste of the idea that destroying the planet and starting over was a good way to deal with sin (broadly defined). At that very moment, I learned that many people, religious or not, seek to solve a difficult problem by clearing the slate - instead of doggedly working to fix whatever's wrong.The concept of a cleared field or blank sheet of paper or uncluttered desk focusses the mind incredibly. (In the case of the Rapture, we are not supposed to think of all the people who must die horribly in order to leave the planet "clean.")
Since then, I have seen much evidence of this. Of course, stories abound of stubborn/crazy/devoted writers or researchers or explorers. James Joyce took 18 years to write Finnegans Wake. The Australian who discovered Heliobactor pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, fought years to convince a whole cadre of medical skeptics that he was right, until his proof became irrefutable, and controversy became accepted dogma. They were ultimately thanked for their informed monomania.
But giving up might be more common - either because of laziness or wisdom. (We can never know how many projects have been ditched prematurely.) To be sure, hard work is, well, hard work - and the easy way out is enticing. However, it can be folly to ignore any number of signals saying, this ain't gonna work, honey, try something else while you still have the strength. Sometimes it's better to clear the slate and start over. It's not weak, it's wise.
The really, really tricky part is to know when you're onto the right thing - and keep fighting for it - and when it's better to quit.
I've been thinking of this all year - for one thing then another. (Why now? Is it correlated with my age?) At stake are time and energy, two very precious commodities. Hope is a basic human feeling, both adaptive and maladaptive. My dilemma: is keeping my hopes alive a help or a hindrance? Am I a dreamer and a fool? Should I face reality (with the facts I have at hand) and get on with the rest of my life, pouring energy into more certain outcomes?
On a related note, this blog is nearing its first anniversary. I have been wondering if I really have more to say on the subject of connection. Also, the almost complete lack of feedback makes me think I'm writing into a void - the reason I was reluctant to start a blog in the first place!
Perhaps the time has come to bring it to an end, and start another, entirely about neuroscience.
If I don't hear any howls of protest by October 28, I'll sign off then.

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