16 April, 2014
I open my email client, read over the email again, and hit reply.
A full minute of staring at the blank screen passes before I close the email client again and look for something else to do. I'm kinda procrastinating, but at the same time that's not quite it.
I'm not sure what I'm doing. Well, apart from not writing the email.
I've written about being stuck before, about being blocked. It's not always a bad thing. In fact, many times it's a great thing. I'm a big believer that being stuck is the source of most inspiration, far more so than being bored, or even being inspired in the first place. If you're not stuck, you're not working on something new. Even if it's just new to you (after all, very little is really new), it's revelatory.
Stuck is often an indicator of the fresh.
But sometimes it's something else.
The beginning is a very delicate moment. It's the moment when we choose whether to continue. Of course, all moments in the course of a project (in the GTD sense of the word) are moments of choice. Our lives are choices. Often they're choices we make without realising we're making them, but everything we do is a choice to reject all other possibilities at that moment.
But the beginning of something is a special sort of choice. It's the explicit, conscious choice on whether the whole enterprise is worth completing. It may be that, before you're finished, you change that choice, but without even starting, there's not even that opportunity.
Beginning something is chosing not to make a choice in the first place. "Not beginning" is really just deferment.
Just as there's very little which is actually "new", there's also very little that's truly "lost". Some specific opportunities truly will never come again (seeing a certain comet, speaking to a departed friend), but the class of those opportunities, the urge to make a choice about them in the first place, is probably still exercisable (seeing a solar eclipse, speaking to a close friend you haven't seen for ages). The point is that the specific things we choose not to do are often still chosable at a later date.
The only thing that stops us choosing is death.
There are few absolutes in this world. Death is one. Death, ultimately, is the cessation of choice. It's the point at which our choices reduce to zero, where we can no longer change our impact on the world. Death itself has an impact, but that impact is fixed, at least in terms of the contributions made by the person who has died.
I wonder if that's what causes people to seek death in times of despair or confusion. If there seem to be no choices left, maybe it's the case that we feel that we are already dead, that we have already reached the point where we no longer can have an impact on the world. Or worse, that our choices are causing more damage than good: that removing our ability to choose would be good for the world.
But still. Being alive is choice. And those choices, every single one, have good and bad repercussions. That's life. That's how living in a world populated by more than one person works. Everything we do will have an impact at some level.
We're all connected.
We all compromise at some level, whether it's manipulatively or sympathetically. We all do things "just to get along", and many of us wish that we didn't have to do that. We feel that we should all be "free" to do what we want to do, and never be judged on our choices, but rather on "who we are" in certain contexts.
And yes, that's a nice ideal I guess. I'm sure Godwin is watching me very closely right now.
But the truth is that, unless we all want to become entirely self-contained emotional islands, whose only interaction with others is through empathy-devoid stream-of-consciousness ramblings of whatever's on our minds, we probably can't get to that ideal.
Imagine a world modelled after Liar Liar.
And now imagine one where empathy was put to the fore. The reality is that, in many ways, we already live in one. Lynch mobs, armies, wars: many of these phonomena are founded on empathy, or at least on sympathy. That empathy is often directed inwards, either by those in power (if you're feeling tinfoil-hatty) or by habit (if you have any interest in history).
Inward empathy is incredibly destructive. All we end up seeing is our own failure. And when we then direct the empathy outward, all we see is the disappointment we create in others.
I don't know how to move past that, but I do know it starts with a choice.
And the first choice is probably to write that damn email.