Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Deconstruction

I've had the annoying tendency lately to deconstruct everything in my world. I pick it apart and figure out if it is really necessary, if it is real, if it is primal, if it is a worthwhile way to spend my life.

Deconstruction can be useful. We do so many things because they are mindless habits, or because society dictates that we should do them, or because our parents did them. Or because we are scared or obsessed or have nothing better to do.

I spent much of middle school and early high school reading comic books. Those are now frustrating memories for me. I'll always dig comics to some extent, and I still think Superman is a badass. But it's scary how much time I spent obsessing over comic books for reasons I was unaware of.

I wish I'd deconstructed more back then. I wish I'd said to myself, "Ben, it's one thing to dive into a particularly fun comic book. It's another thing to mindlessly buy new comics each week when you stopped liking most of them years ago. You worry about maintaining and cataloguing your collection, which is slightly obsessive-compulsive. You're also avoiding the challenges and rewards of the outside world by keeping your nose buried in comics - good strategy!"

I never once thought about why I was doing what I was doing.

It is important to like things for reasons you are concsious of, and to be aware of the impact your habits have on your life. I could have spent my early teenage years doing more interesting, social activities with tangible long-term benefits. I could have been in control of my interests, instead of the other way around.

Still, it's possible to go too far with deconstruction.

I spent last weekend at a family reunion, and I immediately began deconstructing: Family is an arbitrary concept. I don't even know most of these people. Our blood is the same - so what? Am I supposed to be loyal to people - to love them - simply because we're related? How close are we if I see them once every few years? We're all just wasting our time. Everyone here is brainwashed except me.

You can make a coherent argument in most of these directions. I used to blindly believe in loving one's mother, until my college roommate made a convincing case that his mother was heinous and not worthy of his love.

I'm a lot more comfortable now loving my mother because she is a wonderful person who raised me well. That puts me in charge of my actions and decisions - not some archaic tradition or cultural assumption.

If you want to suck the joy out of living, though, you don't have to stop at habits and family. You can deconstruct religion, work, laws, pasttimes, friendships, birthdays, funerals, small talk, and all forms of entertainment. If you delve deeply enough, you can make anything in the world seem stupid and meaningless, done for reasons that make no sense at all.

A lot of times, though, life is simple. It doesn't demand deconstruction. A family reunion can be worthwhile if everyone there believes it is worthwhile. Family members love each other because it makes them feel good. Whether they do it consciously, or because they were indoctrinated at birth, the end result can be a wonderful thing.

The weekend was a lot more fun when I shut up my brain and appreciated the happiness in front of me. Sometimes things just are, for reasons that might or might not make logical sense.

It's important to deconstruct parts of your life. Chances are that you have a bunch of habits and routines that, upon closer scrutiny, you might be doing for reasons that make no sense to you. Clear them out and find better ways to fill your time. Act consciously, for reasons that are relevant to your life.

But deconstructing can also whittle life's possibilities down to a tiny list of things that pass all of your rational, logical tests. There's a level where nothing seems worthwhile or makes sense if you are too strict.

That's a scary level. Life should be about taking advantage of opportunities and enjoying the world's gifts. Dismissing those opportunities and gifts seems like a limiting, unfulfilling way to live.

Sometimes our traditions and assumptions are stupid and limiting. Often, though, they are the source of much of the world's happiness. You have the choice to stand back and mock people for following them, or to jump in and enjoy what everybody else is already enjoying.

1 comment:

R said...

After I read this post, the last line kept coming back to me. Great point! There are times when deconstruction is important, but it sure can get in the way of enjoyment.