Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Right Way

Can’t believe I haven’t posted for almost two weeks! Before I start talking about the New Year and my thoughts, I want to post something I wrote nearly a year ago when I started this blog:

There was one thing on my father’s Morning Edition interview that struck me that I didn’t really consciously process at the time, but the more I think about it, the more important I see that it is to his life, my mother’s life, and my life. The interviewer said that one thing that made my father stand out as a computer programmer was his belief that there is a best way, a right way.

I see now that this belief is very deeply ingrained in my soul. And it’s not about people or religion or cultures at all, but something more quantifiable, more evidence based: how to do things. (I think believing there is a best way can lead to very negative things like nationalism or prejudice, but that isn’t what it means for me at all. George Bush would be an example of someone who has this view. But I would like to think that my best way and right way is more in the realm of evidence-based practices---things that can be measured.) For me the “best way” is about the most measurably efficient, simple, or parsimonious way to do something. That is beautiful. This is an aesthetic my parents share that they have passed down to me. While this belief/aesthetic has been a great motivator for me, it has also gotten me into trouble. I don’t think it is necessarily the best thing or the right thing to have such a belief, but I do have it, so it is perhaps the best way for me. It is interesting to think about how the life of a person who is constantly seeking a best way or a right way to do something is affected.

First, you have to believe that there IS a best way. If everything were equal, why would you bother? And I find I often believe there is A BEST WAY and seek to find IT. Over time I have come to understand that there are different best ways for different people. For me, the best way is the most efficient, simplest, and most parsimonious way. I see now that I am ruled by these criteria for almost everything.

This ideal of a best way often leads me to a position that seems inflexible (though I would like to think that, presented with a measurably better way, I would be instantly flexible) and hampers my ability to finesse a situation. I am not interested in doing something any old way, I want to do it the best way.

It also inhibits a certain romantic view of the world. I remember once asking someone why she walked back to work the way she did if it was longer. “I like to smell the flowers,” she replied. Well, that just would not have occurred to me.

This is perhaps why I nearly go into convulsions if Greg is driving and takes a wrong turn. It’s not like it really matters that much in the long run, he’ll get us there, but it has upset my inner core. I don’t just want to get there; I want to get there the best way. I had a friend in high school that told another friend to stop evaluating my suggestions and just do what I said because, “Jenny is always right.” Well, I was not and am not always right, but I want to be! And I realize that many of the conflicts I have with Greg come from me thinking I know the best way and him thinking that I have rejected his idea because it was his. I argue that it is not a his-idea vs. my-idea kind of thing, but a working-together-to-find-the-best-way kind of thing (albeit using my criteria of the best way!). Sometimes I wish he would take the attitude of my friend from high school. But then I can think of times where we were working together, loading a moving van, for example, and I would be paralyzed by evaluating what was the best way to do it and he would just keep working and carrying and get more done in the end.

The biggest conflict this belief has had in my life was in graduate school. I was in the humanities (not the sciences where there is more of a belief in the quantifiable best way or right way) and the fashion was to “recomplicate” what had been done before. Previous scholars has sought to simplify and define in a way that was “hegemonic and violent” and their scholarship had to be overthrown by a new, dynamic “unreadability." My encountering such a philosophy was like taking my square head and banging it into a round hole. It was so contrary to the way I naturally thought. I learned a lot, but did not thrive in this environment.

I hope I have become a lot more tolerant and accepting over the years, but that includes accepting who I am and the way I naturally think. I realize that this isn’t the best way or the right way and certainly not the only way, but it’s a way I can’t escape.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I came to a realization in my early teens that my standards and other people's standards were always going to be different. At the time, this had to do primarily with visual aesthetics (what I thought was ugly was beautiful to someone else.) I resolved the conflict by realizing that instead of feeling irritated because everyone else was not adhering to my standards, I'd live a life on two levels: my own, and that of the rest of the world.

It's worked OK, for all kinds of issues, not just the visual aesthetic, though sometimes I need to be alone in my own time and space for awhile.

As I've grown older, I don't make evalutations based on rigid standards, but rather whether a particular course of action will be more or less constructive.