Life as an Extreme Sport

forced perspective

Interesting evening yesterday. I realized, pouring myself in to bed at 3am, that one of the things I like most about my job is that my boss is what would happen if you took the energy of the dotcom era startup companies and poured it into bioethics. It’s a combination of everything I love about my field and everything I loved about the computer industry – there is a lot of mad energy and joy in the sort of creative energy that exists in that startup environment, and it was something I thrived on. I think it might be why I overloaded myself so much while an undergrad at UW – I seem to do much better if I’m juggling 12 balls at once, rather than 3. I’m not entirely sure why that works the way it does, but there you go. Maybe it’s just that too much down time makes for idle hands; I always feel so slow if I have too much time and not enough interesting things to do. (Of course, therein lies the rub – there’s always a lot to do, but most of it is boring stuff like housework, and why would I want to do that? Much more fun to be swinging madly from the chandelier, trying to grade papers in one hand while write a term paper in the other.)

That, however, was not necessarily the interesting part – that was just the fun part of the night, finding myself back in an environment so familiar, but enhanced with all the things I love of the academe. The interesting part was having an aspect of my personality called out, and being forced to acknowledge that in fact, I do like being in the middle of everything, knowing and watching what is going on. I do continually find myself in these places of watching groups and conflict, and said boss was right – I enjoy it, and need to stop acting like I don’t. There is a definite pleasure in realizing what’s going on, socially, politically or otherwise, and then watching it play out as predicted.

What the boss was wrong about, however, is that I enjoy it all the time. While there’s a definite enjoyment and (I’ll admit it) smugness about seeing things and piecing things together that no one realizes I’ve figured out (a sort of ha-ha, take that, attitude), I rapidly dislike it when I move from being observer to participant. As the song goes, I’m only watching the game – I don’t like being forced to play in it.

The vast majority of the time, I can maintain my observer status and simply watch. But I get cranky, stressed out, and otherwise unhappy when I’m booted off that observing perch and forced to play. Normally, this doesn’t happen, but there are times where by virtue of needing to make decisions, it does. What I am thinking of, in particular, is being placed in a position where someone reveals something to me that will negatively affect someone I am loyal to – because in my world, love, affection and loyalty are powerful, inter-related concepts that trump just about everything else. And if you place me in a spot where I have to come down from the observers tower and interact with the players, it’s because you’ve done something against someone I do have powerful emotional entanglements with.

Unfortunately, I think I generally play those commitments towards others very close to my chest – I have to, in order to watch the game. So the stress then comes from being forced (in my view) to reveal those commitments by virtue of wanting to make sure that the person I care about is okay. Revealing commitments then leaves me open to having that caring rejected – and I think I’d rather just care quietly about people than knowing it’s unwanted or unwelcomed.

All of which I never would have really thought about or articulated if I hadn’t been forced to, which in itself is interesting.