Friday, January 9, 2009

A Conversation: "Where More Credit Is Due"

Over at The Archer Pelican, blog buddy Phil posted the following thought provoking proposition three days ago under the title, "Where More Credit is Due":

An emerging thought:

In America it seems to me that we often give too little respect to how hard things can be: whether the length of time it takes to mourn a lost relative, or how difficult it is to find the courage to apologize, or how scary it is to leave a job or a relationship.

That said, it also seems that we have to little faith in how strong we can be: whether in the ability to keep functioning while taking the time to cry, or the resolve to push our way through to saying what needs to be said, or the will to walk out a door and to keep walking while everything tries to pull you back.

I could be wrong, but that's the way it seems to me.

To which, a couple days later, I mustered the following response:

Phil, I'm gonna object to just one thing here. Well, not "object" so much as "recast." Among the things you think people don't credit the difficulty of is how scary it is to leave a job or a relationship. You're right, those things are scary, and sometimes one needs to summon the courage to do just that: leave. However . . .

A worse thing, I think (and recent experience of course makes this personal) is the corollary of that failure to respect the difficulty of a thing, i.e., the expectation people have that something should require little effort in the first place. This applies especially to relationships. If I understand you, you are saying that, in this country, we expect everything to come easily. And worse yet, we expect those things to be perfect. A good relationship is almost always the result of hard work, and even the best relationship is never perfect. Some relationships need to end, and the worst ones often take the most courage to leave. But our failure to respect the difficulty and complexity of human relationships sometimes means that people bail without really trying.

And trying to endure is not the same as trying to make a thing better. Better to bail than throw up one's hands and embrace martyrdom. But that false expectation of ease, I think, too often leads people to the martyr label before they have made an effort to make a thing better. Be it job or relationship. Again, some things are unfixable. I know that. But a corollary of your observation is that too many people don't think they should need to try.

I offer both here as an example of the reason I write or read blogs at all. They are, the ones I treasure most, like an ongoing seminar with people who are not only smart, they're my friends. When Susan Jacoby indicts blogs on the whole as anonymous venting by semi-literate, anti-rationalists in her book The Age of American Unreason (which I finished over the holidays and will have more to say about later and elsewhere), I can't help but think she lives in a different blogosphere than I.