The fine line between apathy and despair

So I came back from a weekend of planting trees, to find that the trees in front of my flat had all been cut down. They were beautiful orange trees, in the courtyard of the ground floor apartment. Not sure what’s up with that but I’m mourning them a little. Or every single time I come home. Shame.
And, not surprisingly, I did it again. Back was not ready for what I put it through … some things are ok, but loading the posterior chain with heavy overhead squats and push presses don’t fall into that category (and we won’t even discuss the other stuff I did that also was probably not the best idea for the lower back!). So, back to the gimp patrol for me; unfortunately I need to train or I can’t function as a rational human being, so we’ll just have to find things that don’t hurt in the meantime.  
I had a particularly aptly timed session of acupuncture because I overheard some instruction in the next room. Bottom line (and it makes sense) is that everything is connected. Finding that balance between physical training, mental training, and recovery is critical. It’s more holistic than just the eat-sleep-train-fish oil that they teach you at CrossFit. That is correct, but it’s a beginning, not an end. Different words for the same thing – what the martial artists accomplish by balancing kung fu with qigong and tai chi (on a continuum you can think of one as tightening the muscles, the other loosening and stretching), CrossFitters accomplish with strength, metcons, and mobility. It’s all tools in a toolkit. I’m excited to learn internal healing (or more ways of internal healing; the one that I know requires extreme concentration which means, guess what, I should practice more, right??).
But it can be quite confusing. One person says ice. The next says for goodness sakes, avoid ice because it stresses the damaged tissue, use heat, which relaxes it. One person says acupuncture may not be the best idea. Others swear by it. I try to go by what my body feels when it comes to recovery, and diet. That part seems to work quite well. What doesn’t work so well is going back too soon. I’m not titanium.
I sometimes wish there were just a simple formula that someone could tell me: you want to achieve X, this is how you do it. I guess if life were that simple, it would be pretty boring. And in some cases, I am better at seeing through the fog than other people (i.e. a lot of business and entrepreneurship things). This, like other things, is relative I suppose. But it’s almost like a dragon guarding a treasure: the answer is actually out there, you just need to find it. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I’m impatient to be ready, but that immaturity is part of my journey. I guess?
So I had a most excellent lunch with my friend Ingi earlier in the week. Super cool girl. I know a lot of really cool women. I have some awesome friends. Anyway, we were talking quite a bit about trying to do what we do, and muddle through life. Too far on the one side, and you’re too complacent with how things are and you wind up in ruts, or never making progress. Too far on the other side, and you beat yourself up unnecessarily, and potentially unhealthily. Or, as we coined the concept, walking the line between apathy (I’m awesome, don’t need to change) and despair (I suck; why even bother?).
Our life is made up of all the little choices we make. Like when I have one thing that I really need to get done in the day and it doesn’t happen because I let other people’s priorities dictate my response. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. This is what you happen when you plan insufficiently. I no longer have much of a problem saying no, but I do have a problem planning, which is very weird because a part of my personality LOVES planning. But a part of my personality also just loves to toss planning to the wind and jump in without a plan. Like it or not, what we choose to do and how we choose to spend our time does force us to make certain implicit decisions about what we do not do.
The presence of our Swiss angel this week spurred a fascinating discussion about capitalism in the morning meeting. I think there were only two of us in the room happy to call ourselves capitalists. It apparently has a big stigma attached to the word which is a strange concept for me, as an American (or at least the St Paul’s and Babson-educated American that I am). Even seeing what America has been through recently, I still see that as a failure of people and I suppose regulatory systems rather than a failure of capitalism per se. But that’s a whole other topic I suppose; the correct or proper interplay between government and the free market. Talk about a theoretical conversation; you could write a PhD thesis on the subject.
I guess where I come to is that capitalism is not perfect, but beats any other system that I know of. Same goes for democracy. And CrossFit. And social enterprise.
Peter was also talking about his experience in the township on Sunday when he was having mixed emotions. On the one side, extreme sympathy and empathy for people living in squalor and in really degrading conditions. On the other, a bit of almost disgust maybe at the same people who didn’t even bother to remove trash from their doorsteps. Hard to want to push some ‘better’ solution on someone who doesn’t want it. Impossible, even. That sh*t doesn’t work. History is littered with charities and social enterprises that try to force a solution on beneficiaries. Treat them as customers not as pitiful things (the equivalent of the ‘user’ in the software world … the poor saps who have to use your product because the buyer bought for whatever reasons).
But this reminded me of a vignette of my buddy Keith’s experience. Keith is a dear friend of mine from my days at Cal. Love that boy. Anyway he once lived in Oakland, in the projects. Like the proper ghetto. I suppose at this point I should mention that Keith is a gay white boy. One day he was planting flowers outside where he was living and some children came along and were fascinated by what he was doing.
“What are you doing?”
“Planting flowers.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“To make it look pretty.”
“But why??”
Turns out, when people had very little they resented others who had more, to the point where they would actually literally deface other people’s property or toss cigarette butts into planters, etc. If you’re angry, and hurt, you tend to pull other people down with you rather than try and raise yourself and everyone up. Keith never had that problem. Quite the reverse; he actually had a couple of the houses around him put in some flowers before he moved out. Apparently he taught the children a thing or two. I love this story because it’s beautiful, like something out of a movie. Of course, the lasting effect of this I do not know. I can suspect, but I am not hopeful.
Speaking of social enterprise and ‘nudges’: ASEN event Wednesday night followed by a UX presentation and discussion on social norms and decision-making. It is interesting stuff; all of this – going back to my conversation with Ingi the other day. She was talking about social norms relating to women’s roles vs men’s in South Africa (and she has lived overseas, so she is pretty well placed to offer a commentary). I have heard a lot of what she describes from other women, some South African and some transplants. Personally I haven’t experienced it but I wonder the degree to which my extremely individualistic (uber-American?) personality prevents it from occurring. Ingi was saying if I were to move in with a South African man, I’d soon be picking up his socks and doing the dishes. But, that was the way in America too. I think it’s less about the external culture and more about the boxes we allow ourselves to be put into, or we put ourselves into.
And it’s also pretty much true that almost anyone in a relationship has a list of compromises as long as their arm. Both people, not just one (unless the relationship is very unbalanced and unhealthy which can of course happen). And you look at some of these things from the outside and turn up your nose and think ‘how silly that people let themselves get into these positions.’ But then of course, people who live in glass houses right?
I’ll admit that I went through a phase when I was more than a bit scornful when looking at some of the people around me (ironic, maybe, considering how many people confide in me!). For the avoidance of doubt, the following examples are archetypes, not actual people (although the examples are real).

The friend who stayed in a relationship where she wasn’t happy for far too long (stop lying to yourself). The friend who is scared that she’s too old and too unattractive and will wind up alone (stop creating a self-fulfilling prophecy). The friend who is continuously pratting on about some girl who but is too afraid of [her saying no/getting his heart broken] (stop being such a coward). But it’s so easy to play Monday morning quarterback isn’t it? I am no longer scornful. I have done all of the above, in varying forms. And a whole litany of other stuff. I just won’t always admit it, even to myself.
I was chatting to Hes the other day, shortly after my own amusing ‘damn you autocorrect’ moment (which was only funny because of the context …….. isn’t it always though?) about that whole ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer’ vibe. Sometimes a little fear, a little fire in your belly, a little ‘I’ll show you’ is a good thing. Sometimes it’s just a stressor.
So we keep walking that line. I suppose I walk closer to despair than apathy most days. We’ll see how my back feels in the morning.
  • “The CIPC is incompetent. I apologise.” – Jeff
  • “It is cold.” – JP
  • “When someone’s manipulating you, you know. Right?” – Ingi
  • “It’s when you start to attach labels to it that you run into problems. When someone calls you ‘elite’ either you get a big head or you think about it for a second and realise you’re not so damn elite.” – Ellie
  • “It’s not actually the pushing myself I have a problem with, it’s more the being hard on myself about it.” – Katharine
  • “I would have just put 60. I’m not kidding at all.” – Jeff
  • “You can’t just do things.” – Shirfu

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