Adapting to the world vs. keeping the necessary distance to change it

I often ask my students to scribble down in class the reason they want to write, why they are in my class, what is propelling them to do this sometimes-excruciating, sometimes-boring work. And over and over, they say in effect, “I will not be silenced again.” They were good children, who often felt invisible and who saw some awful stuff. But at some point they stopped telling what they saw because when they did, they were punished. Now they want to look at their lives — at life — and they don’t want to be sent to their rooms for doing so.
“bird by bird” by Anne Lamott

I met an interesting woman today, who told me that she wrote frequently as a teenager, but stopped writing when she lost the drive to do so. If I understood her correctly, this was due to the fact that her communication with others improved and she no longer needed to express herself in writing.

I think it makes sense and I was reminded of the quote above, but I am also … torn regarding a person adapting so well the world that she does not need to express herself in writing. Granted, not every written text is interesting, not every book has something worth remembering — or not every drop of ink makes people think (to misquote Voltaire). And yes, a world full of neurotic writers would be a terrible place to live in.

But thinking about it a little bit longer, I fear that perhaps a voice was lost. People who adapt to this world to use its imperfect systems perfectly might benefit personally and mentally, but they might also loose their ability to see the world differently, to change it for the better.

But I also see that keeping the right distance to the world and its systems is very difficult. You must not dive too far into it to adapt (or be adapted) to it, nor climb to high to loose contact with it. If you sink too deep, you are swallowed by the world, if you climb to high, you probably begin to think in the lines of Dr. Manhatten in Watchmen: “I prefer the stillness here. I am tired of Earth. These people. I am tired of being caught in the tangle of their lives.“. It takes the right height to keep an attitude like: “I see and do things differently, but I am staying, because I love this world and want to change it.

Perhaps it amounts to people not settling down, to people keeping their desire to deal with complexity, with conflicting viewpoints and pressures. People who see the “easy” or “comforting” option and say “No.“. Yes, perhaps, in a way, they might have to be masochists, or at least be able to handle constant pain, confusion and feelings of quickly varying distances.

I think it is very easy to sink into the world and loose that perspective. The advantages are high — you improve your efficiency in dealing with the world — but I fear that the disadvantage is that a voice is lost for changing it.

But I might be wrong. What do you think?

Categories: Self-Improvement



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