Thinking About Thinking - 2019


Emerging from Emergencies

By Balaji Prasad

“Don't you draw the queen of diamonds boy,
She'll beat you if she's able
You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet.
Now it seems to me some fine things
Have been laid upon your table
But you only want the ones that you can't get."
~Desperado, by The Eagles (Glenn Frey, Don Henley)

To be desperate is, literally, to be without hope, if you look at the etymology of the word.

That meaning doesn't quite seem to fit the way it is currently used though. If you really had no hope, you would not be desperate. You would resignedly stand back and watch helplessly as things unfolded. Or, if more philosophically inclined, you would be stoical about it; you would tell yourself that pain and pleasure are all just the fabric of life. In either case, you would see, though, that nothing can be done. Your only choice would be what attitude to take toward that which is inevitable.

Desperado

In reality, though, a desperate person is not without hope. There is tremendous desire for something. At the same time, there is an equally tremendous fear that the thing desired might not come to pass, unless you move a few mountains. And, that is what we often see: desperate people attempting to move gargantuan mountains. And, getting crushed under the weight of those mountains. Desperate people end up in jail. They commit suicide. And, worse.

Desperation is not a sense of true hopelessness. It is hoping so gut-wrenchingly to attain something, that it spurs you on to burn up whatever – yourself, others, resources – to get to what you desire. However, the trouble is that you cannot burn your left hand to strengthen your right hand. The whole thing fails not so much because the thing you yearn for is challenging to attain. It is because you want it so bad, and so quickly, that your system gets “maxed out", causing you to act as if you are in a 911-emergency situation. The issue is that emergencies require a different kind of response than regular problems do. However, not everything is an emergency, though it may appear so, when your heart is pounding, and your head is throbbing. You generate many false alarms mixed in with and indistinguishable from real alarms. In the former case, some vandal breaks the glass, and sets off the alarm, causing everyone in the building to go nuts. In the latter case (i.e. a real fire), there is an absolute need to act decisively and powerfully, sparing no resource to make sure that life and limb are preserved. The thing is that your head is full of vandals, who will set off alarms every now and then, without any sense of fairness.

I make P's

Some people somehow seem to always have fewer emergencies. They know that there are big-P “Problems" and then there are the little-p “problems". And, that these two kinds of problems live in different universes. For many people, the universe serves up all kinds of little-p problems, and, only occasionally, does a big-P problem thunder in. However, there are many – way too many– who seem to face a disproportionate number of big-P Problems. The fact is that problems don't decide on their own to be small-p or big-P problems. It comes down to what lies in the I of the p-holder – how much the I inflates the problem. Bigger I's create bigger P's. Smaller I's create smaller p's. If you mind your I, the P's will follow. The relative universe will shrink, as the number of big-P problems dwindle, and as the optional problems increase in proportion. Many problems, then, can be viewed somewhat indulgently, and we might say, “You know, I'd love to solve that problem, but it's no big deal if I don't". “Problem? What problem!?" you say, with eyebrows raised, as you glance away, and look at something else.

Old is the new gold

So why do little p's become big P's? Because you are spoiled rotten maybe? Maybe you have it too good. You have so many things, and so much that came to you so easily, that you fail to appropriately value the things you have. They seem almost cheap – cheap enough that you don't think too hard about giving them up in exchange for the thing you are desperate about at the moment. Until, the loss of these things sends their value soaring again. Desperation causes you to give up the bird in the hand for the two in the bush. Until the bush turns up empty. So you come back full circle, to get desperate about the things you used to have but don't have anymore because you failed to value them when you did have them. The old becomes the new new: a new and improved new.

But “new" and “old" are just time-based labels for things that happen to occur at certain points in time. In reality, many things have a value that is relatively independent of time. If I value peace of mind in general, it is something that I would value regardless of what time of day or year it is, would I not? So, what causes me to give up something of value for something of lesser value?

The theory of relativity

It is just, as Einstein said: everything is relative. So I end up deprioritizing my peace of mind for the sake of whatever it is that happens to draw my passion with intensity. Also, I never quite make this trade-off consciously - the compromise of my peace of mind - but I do it nevertheless. Then, if I find myself lamenting about that which I gave up, should I not tell myself that it was me that did this?

The interesting thing about life is that we value multiple things. Often, at the same time. We sometimes end up giving up X for Y, and sometimes Y for X. Or, sometimes, some of each. When we prioritize our X's and our Y's relative to one another, we can be at peace knowing that the universe may not give us everything we desire, but at least we asked for what we really want. However, when we have too many 911-emergencies, we are too busy being desperate, and have too little time to think about what we really want. Then it won't matter at all what the universe gives us. Because solutions do not exist for undefined problems. When we create fewer emergencies, we emerge. And find peace in smaller p's.

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Balaji Prasad is an IIT/IIM graduate, a published author, SAT/ACT Online and Offline Coach, interview, resume, and career coach at NewCranium. Contact: 704.746.9779 or balaji.prasad@newcranium.com