I am not the Wise Old Fish

“This is water” David Foster Wallace

It’s the weekend, it’s raining and I feel like I’m trapped in a glass box of emotion. I’m not really but the world can always use more Anchorman references. Stay Classy.

The picture above is based on a story in a book by David Foster Wallace. As far as I know he first used it in a commencement speech he gave, I suspect it isn’t his story originally, but I stole it from him, so credit where it’s due. In the speech, which is well worth a listen, he proposes the idea that there is no such thing as atheism, that everybody has something they worship. 

Despite what some jokingly abortive attempts at starting cults may suggest, religion has never been my thing. Money has only ever been useful in what it lets me do. If my body is a temple, it’s slightly decrepit and in need of redemption. I do however consider myself to be a man of principle. That is to say nothing of the quality or virtue of those principles, merely that I do have a set of overrarching ideas that I do try and abide by. They serve as a useful guideline when I’m making decisions. 

Some of these impact my life more regularly than others. The principles I’m more aware of tend to be the ones I notice that I’m failing to live up to. Some are pretty simple on paper “Do right by others”, “Try not to be a c*nt, unless it’s really funny”. Some I have a harder time articulating because I only become aware of them when I’m somehow failing to live up to them. I get a vague, ill-defined feeling of discontent, that something is not quite right. Sometimes I solve the puzzle, other times I have some help but sometimes I find myself at a loss.

I’ve been struggling at work recently because there are quite a lot of problems happening. A lot of them are regarding things that I have enough, in some cases significant, knowledge that could help towards putting things right. Not saying I can fix it all myself, but I could help. One principle I can explain is that I don’t like my name being associated with things that aren’t great, particularly if I can do something about it. The trouble comes in that for any number of reasons, my help isn’t wanted. I’ve struggled with this, but come to the realisation that it’a fine. I’ll do what I’m asked and that’ll be that. 

I’ve been taking this approach for the last week or so, but it hasn’t quite sat right. We’re supposed to be in an era where corners aren’t cut, processes aren’t bypassed and everything is done by the book. Great. Problem is, we’re approaching this idea with a corner cutting mentality. I’ve been asked to complete a couple of tasks, nothing sketchy but abusing mechanisms. I’ve taken it upon myself to complete the task as requested but also complete it in what I would consider the ‘proper way’. I’ve submitted both for someone more senior to decide how to proceed. If they don’t go my way? So be it, I know that I’ve done what I can. I’ve narrowed the idea of what I’m responsible for, but I do not want to lower my own standards in regards to it.

The point of the illustration above is to consider that the obvious can sometimes be so obvious we don’t even consider it. I’m definitely guilty of this at times. I think a lot of the time when I’m approaching a problem, particularly emotional ones, I immediately start looking for a complicated answer. I wonder if I might not have saved myself a headache or two over the last few years if I’d stopped to think a bit more. I mean, I probably still wouldn’t have found the right answers, but you’ve got to have hope.

One question that I never enjoy answering is “What are you thinking about?” It’s never what I should be thinking about. My mind is a dangerous creature when left alone unsupervised. Sometimes I’m literally thinking about nothing. Nothing at all. It’s peaceful. But people get suspicious and assume I jist don’t want to tell them. In fairness, there are times when I say I’m thinking about nothing because the reality is ridiculous and I don’t need people questioning my sanity. Again. I still don’t know how to get to Sesame Street.

I’m priviliged enough to consider myself fairly well educated. I have a Masters Degree from a pretty solid uni. I used to think that education was about learning a lot. I still think it is, but not in the same way. As I’ve learnt more and more over the years, I’ve actually come to realise that there is more and more I don’t know. Has my ignorance increased? Or just my awareness of it? A common saying is that education teaches you how to think. I’ve always found this slightly patronising, I’ve always been able to think. I think what education does do it give you more ideas for what to think about. 

I set out on this post with a beginning in mind, but not really a middle or an end point. So if there is some obvious philosophical point being made, I must confess ignorance of it and say that it’s accidental.

I am not the wise old fish.

Alex

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