Thursday, July 17, 2008

Seriously?



Maybe on The Onion... but a headline like that... on CNN?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Ruts

I think ruts have a huge impact on our lives whether or not we realize it. It's not all bad either, despite the fact that the word has a slightly negative connotation.

President Frazier, my mission president, used to tell us about ruts. He talked about how obedience was a rut, a good one, that we wanted to get into. The more you would obey or do something you were supposed to, you would create a habit. As time went on, that pattern of behavior became a rut. It was comfortable and easy to keep, and you felt some natural resistance when your actions were outside of the rut.

Because that's what a rut is, right? Run a knife across a worn table or ride a saucer down a well-used sledding hill. A rut not only directs you in a specific direction, but it naturally guards you against aberrant behavior. And it's not that you can't behave outside the rut, it just requires a certain amount of energy. In physics it is called escape velocity, which is the necessary velocity an object needs to be able to escape the gravitational pull of a planet. However, this velocity is a vector and it isn't just the magnitude of the velocity that counts, it is also the direction. Sometimes we have what seems to be the necessary escape velocity, but it is headed straight down the rut. Oftentimes, breaking out of ruts requires deliberate, perpendicular, and calculated actions.

Some ruts are bad. I've found myself carrying baggage from one relationship into another, projecting undeserved attributes from a previous significant other to the person I just started dating. Or maybe it is my own behavior that I am sometimes holding on to.

Other times I have felt a friendship fall into an undesirable rut. The most common example of this is the rut of sarcasm. Now, I admit, sarcasm has an interesting way of forming an immediate connection between two people. I've met people where we were instantly able to connect at a certain level because we could share a similar sarcastic humor, but it is too easy to fall into the sarcastic rut. This is the rut where your sarcasm is balanced by little or often no genuine communication. Sometimes your friendship devolves into the equivalent of two drowning swimmers, both trying to claw up on the other person to keep their head above water. Your friendship ends up being built upon jokes at the other person's expense. Other times it is less competitive, but your communication with each other is void of any meaningful value. You leave each conversation with nothing gained, only time and energy lost. Sarcasm is an easy rut to fall into, but I've found it is possible to escape if you both take deliberate action, with the right velocity, at the right angle.

Just because you've escaped a rut, doesn't mean you're in the clear. In fact, I've been thinking lately about a few of the ruts I once escaped but have slipped back into. One transfer on my mission my companion and I decided it was unchrist-like to make fun of people, which isn't that easy of a habit to break. Making light of people or situations becomes a defense mechanism that some missionaries use to press on in light of adversity. So for six weeks, we were more christ-like. It was great and totally worth it, but I slipped back into it with the next companion. More recently I felt like a made some breakthroughs in my personal outlook on life. I decided I was going to worry less, be less cynical, and be nicer to others. However, I think I just got busy last semester and had my resources strained. My new outlook felt the brunt of the pinch, and as a result I felt like I have backpedaled a bit, but not entirely. So, some ruts you can escape and be done with, with others you have constant battle.

Finally, I wanted to talk about a different kind of rut. After the previous paragraphs it seems very unrelated, but it is actually what got me thinking about this post. I read an item Ben Crowder shared in Google Reader yesterday. It was a piece proposing a new standard for electrical outlets that would eliminate the need of the power blocks most of our devices come with. I read it and thought, "Cool. This is a really good idea." But I read it with skepticism because I know the ruts we get into as a society and how difficult it is to escape them. There are certain ruts that we are in that I don't know if we will ever escape. Not that it wouldn't be worth escaping, it is just that it would need such deliberate action that I'm not sure we are incapable of as a country. The benefits are not immediate, but rather are accumulated over time, making it all the more difficult to motivate ourselves to be the ones to make the difficult transition. The main example I am thinking of is the metric system. There is almost no compelling argument NOT to switch. Yet year after year we have our teachers wasting class time teaching the intricacies of the customary system and reteaching the metric system so that we can perform calculations in the hard sciences. And year after year we make error upon error because there aren't ten inches in a foot, and there aren't ten feet in a yard. It is a frustrating feeling that although there are some really good ideas out there, like a more efficient electrical standard or a system of measurement that makes sense, the escape velocity is often too great to be achieved. It also seems as though these ruts escape the pressures of a free market. I don't know much economics but it seems as though a switch to the metric system, as efficient as it would be, isn't being favored by the market. I'd be curious to know if this is an inadequacy of the free market, or simply an inadequacy of my understanding of economics.

So find your bad ruts, escape. Find your good ones and score them a little deeper.