Searching for continuity

I apologize for the relentlessly solipsistic posts recently. Being in New York in a new environment is giving me a chance to re-examine what I take for granted. It’s interesting to see what behaviors translated through the move untouched (e.g. I still prefer eating in to going out), and what hasn’t (e.g. I don’t miss driving _at_all_). Anyway, eventually I’ll get this stuff out of my system, and get back to philosophical posts of (arguably) wider interest. But today’s post? Solipsistic. You’ve been warned.

I’ve been pondering this question of passion for a while now, and trying to pay attention to what makes me light up. A conversation will be meandering along, and we’ll hit a topic and I’ll perk up and get really involved, and then we’ll move on, and I’ll lapse into the background again. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a common theme among the topics that interest me. I think I have a theory, but I’ll list a few and you can play along at home.

Things that have interested me in the last few weeks:

  • The discussion about living forever
  • The discussion we had at work after reading Positioning
  • A discussion I had in the office about the appropriateness of using manipulative techniques
  • Talking with a woman about her research at a party last week, where her research is why certain locations are canonically associated with certain musical genres (e.g. New Orleans and Jazz, Nashville and Country, Mississippi and Blues)
  • A discussion at a housewarming party about George Lakoff and framing

Then add in my long-standing interest in topics like community, and, more recently, management. What’s the connecting thread?

Here’s my theory of the weekend: the thing that I’m consistently interested in is changing the world. I want to make an impact. For a long time, I was convinced the way to do this was to excel technically and discover new science. As I grow older, I’m starting to think that the way to make an impact is to affect other people. Being part of a great community is so valuable to me that I can only imagine that creating one would be even more so. Making a company that is a great place to work is huge, given how much time people spend at work each day.

The other thread that ties in here is that it’s not necessary to actually change the physical world (e.g. by discovering a new quark or whatever) to change the world. I can change somebody’s world by changing their perceptions about the world, changing the filters with which they process information. I think this is what fascinates me so much about the arts of manipulation and of framing (and why I like the work of Neil LaBute). I’m also growing more interested in the ideas of critical theory and postmodernism for the same reason, to understand the theory of how our realities are shaped by our influences.

So I’m a megalomaniacal would-be manipulator. But I’m convinced that wanting to change the world does not necessarily lead to evil; for example, my friend Wes is changing the world of students through tutoring them in math. I haven’t yet figured out where to make my stand; my current theory is management, because it’s an opportunity to create a community and change how people view their jobs and maybe even their lives. I have all of these idealistic theories of how people can achieve great things if they are given the opportunity, and I’d love to get the chance to put them into action at some point. I could also see myself as a teacher; I think I’m relatively good at explaining things to others. In the meantime, I am gathering information and experiencing life, and that can only help, right?

Of course, I still need to figure out how to alter my own reality. Maybe that’s the place to start. Control myself, control the world. (As an aside that’s not really worth turning into its own post, inspired partly by this bookmarked link, it’s interesting to me how people who get offended feel like it is everybody else’s responsibility to avoid offending them. It seems like an incredibly selfish viewpoint – that everybody else should cater to their needs. It also seems like a position of weakness – that they are giving everybody the right to offend them. Instead, I tend to believe that most people’s opinions don’t matter to me, so if they say something offensive, that’s their loss, but doesn’t impact me. Maybe that makes me a selfish robot. Hard to say.)

I’m going to keep noodling with this idea of changing the world for a while, and see if it continues to be a common thread in the topics that make me perk up. Then at some point, I’ll need to start considering how to put theory into practice, always my weakness.

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