Archive for September, 2013

Forcing Our Ideas on Others

September 26, 2013

 “Gavage” (Go-vazh) is a French word meaning “to gorge,” which refers to the practice of force-feeding by tube, whether it be animals or humans. I prefer to think of this word a lot more in terms of societal thinking and politics. Years ago, religion might be included in that group, but I contend that politics has become the new religion in our society. In fact, many religious groups have become so devoted to their causes that a worship service or newsletter could be easily confused as a political rally or promotional materials. With a year round campaign cycle—no matter how distant the next election—and the swagger and hyperbole that was once saved for fiery pre-election debates only, we’re all being force fed bitter rancor, righteous indignation, and red lines that, if crossed, spell hellfire and damnation for us, forever. This is what I mean by gavage.

 

In this blog, I often express my distress about the increasing emotionalism infiltrating every aspect of our lives—you see it on national news broadcasts, during legislative debates, and religious sermons. The result of such a non-stop barrage of emotional hyperbole is a societal and personal drift away from valuing reason to hailing passion as the best way to make decisions. If we’re not careful, such incessant examples and influences can’t help but impact our thinking. Let me ask you this: do you do your best thinking when highly agitated? How many of us believe the calm, rational mindset Captain Sullenberger utilized when landing his plane safely on the Hudson River was the reason he succeeded under extremely dramatic and harrowing circumstances?

 

So, those are some examples of what I term gavage on a societal level. Let’s turn our focus to smaller scale offenses, such as the gavage that occurs in your own family. What expectations or ideas have you been force fed? And, even more threateningly, what standards or opinions are you force feeding others?I never force my sainted and thoughtful ideas on others,” you protest. “Yes, I am a repository of great wisdom—some of it hard earned—but I allow others to blossom or bumble as they see fit.” Oh, really? If I asked your family members about this do you think they’d agree or might they just snort and roll their eyes?

 

As someone who has been force fed, as well as having participated in some gavage of my own, I turn these questions on myself, too. Yes, I hold certain definite ideas, but as I proceed through life, I am ever more aware that my ideas have changed—and will continue to do so, I expect. I am far less likely to practice gavage on another now than I was, say, 10, 15, or 20 years ago. So, that’s progress, isn’t it? On the other hand, for much of my life and in many different arenas, I’ve been subject to the expectations of others with regard to behavior, loyalty, and deference. The price I’ve paid for failing to meet such standards includes calculated indifference, anger, and being cast out. This, my friends, is what I mean by “personal gavage.”

 

Where’s the line between accepting the fact that those close to us sometimes do or think about things very differently than we do [a neutral statement] versus feeling disappointed or insulted or condemning their actions? Note that expressions of these two, very different perspectives can appear to be identical in your outward behavior, but what are you really feeling? Is it emotional neutrality or is it hostility? People aren’t stupid; they can sense the difference.

Advertisements

Investing in the Unknown

September 24, 2013

Our society has morphed from one founded entirely on the unknown to one where we seek out guarantees for everything. It is my personal opinion that as a result of the enormous bounty this country enjoys, our ability to absorb certain losses has resulted in a gradual policy drift from ensuring baseline societal needs are addressed to fervent pledges that each and every harmful impact will be fully remedied, so no harm done. I won’t burden you with my theories as to why I think this is, but I am setting out my premise as the start for this post.

We want assurances that “someone” is going to make us “whole” should we suffer any loss. And my definition of “we” runs the gamut from individuals to political parties to our entire system of government. But, the fact of the matter is this life doesn’t come with any guarantees other than death. We all know we’re gonna die. Other than that, we don’t know. We don’t know what direction our lives will turn and we don’t know all the impacts which may follow from certain choices or actions. We can guess, but we can’t truly be sure. For those of us who like to believe we have control over our lives, this is an especially problematic thesis.

As Re-booters, we’re aware that certain parts of our lives aren’t working for us, for a whole host of reasons—some of which we understand and some of which we don’t. The way forward to a more personally integrated and satisfactory life is unclear. What makes it worse is that we feel caught between continuing to lead our lives in the dysfunctional manner that we know isn’t right for us (but at least we know what to expect) versus striking out in a new direction which has no promise of success. What holds so many back is the lack of a guarantee that some “new way” is going to work. And the stakes only get higher the more invested we feel in our familiar but deeply flawed current model.

In order to find what works, we must be willing to try strategies that may fail.

Yuck, even reading these words makes me shudder. So this is when I call upon my best, most optimistic and creative self to take the lead in this debate. We can scare ourselves silly with tales of despair and epic failure. Chronic joblessness and the lethargic economy have inflicted suffering on so many in this country; it’s understandable that there’s an atmosphere of fear and loathing to taking a risk. But, here’s when it’s most important to call upon our smartest, most resilient self. Even if you give Plan B your best shot and it falls short, the next move is Plan C, enhanced with the knowledge that previous failures haven’t killed you.

So far, I’ve employed the quotidian example of employment, but let’s apply this line of reasoning to other arenas of our lives. For instance, there’s no assurance that a second (or third) marriage is going to work, so why pledge your troth at all? Since the economy is a mess and employers can get away with murder, why invest your time and savings to return to school to study something that interests you? Why, after building a reputation for painting landscapes, would you abandon it in order to create abstract pieces? With so much competition to produce new sources of energy—by people far better connected and funded than you—are you really going to spend the next umpteen months trying to make this work while putting the rest of your life on hold? You do it because you believe in yourself and your efforts enough to take that risk.

In my life, what I’ve learned is that failure has given me several things: the knowledge that I can survive it; greater understanding of what went wrong so the next strategy I try will be informed by this experience; and, most importantly, maybe what seems and feels like a botched effort isn’t all that terrible. I’m coming to learn that I need to make peace with a certain amount of failure and remain unbowed by it in order to find that shining moment I seek. Repeat after me: failure is a necessary part of the process.

The difference between Re-booters and the rest of the world is that we’re desperate enough and imaginative enough to seek out a different way to live our lives, to freshen our attitudes and revise our perspectives. So, we invest our time, our resources, our pride, and ourselves in something that has no guarantee of succeeding. Look at me. Here I am struggling, struggling, struggling to rebuild a life and a career and I still don’t know if I’m going to make it. All this time, effort, and moving across the country may be for naught, but what I do know is this: I had to escape a situation that was bad for me, and while I don’t know how things will resolve themselves, I firmly believe that I’m way better off now (even with all these unknowns) than I was before. Maybe the stars will align and I’ll have my moment of triumph, but for now, I’m investing in new things currently available for me to try. Things like this blog, which you so graciously read. Things like redefining expectations and repairing important relationships—including that with myself. I don’t know what’s going to happen next or what door may open, but I’ll give it a shot. I hope the same for you as you consider new directions in your life.

What I’m rambling on about is how important it is both to take risks—risks that involve significant costs and consequences for us—and still be ok if and when they fail. Keep in mind: a whole host of fantastic discoveries reveal themselves through experiments gone wrong. You know this already, I know. But, it’s a far cry to understand something in theory than it is to apply it to your own life, when you are the one who may fall flat on your face. There’s no way to move forward in life if you are unwilling to try and fail.

Here is a link to an 8 minute video that may inspire you (I peripherally helped work on this project). The researchers profiled investigated topics that most would assume was a complete and utter waste of taxpayer dollars—things like studying lizard venom or playing fantasy games of matching up potential spouses. There was no guarantee of practical applications. http://www.goldengooseaward.org/video/

Traffic Circles and the Imperial City

September 19, 2013

For those of you who have yet to have the pleasure of visiting our nation’s capital, take it from me that it’s spectacular. Appointed in 1791 by General Washington to design the new Federal City, Pierre L’Enfant proved himself to be not only a talented and artistic city planner, but a giant pain in the ass and extremely difficult to work with. So much so that he was dismissed less than a year after he had been hired. However, what L’Enfant did accomplish was a vision for a magnificent capital, laid out on a grid, intending to convey the shimmering promise of this brave, new democracy.

 

Along with impressively named avenues (Independence, Constitution), the National Mall, Washington Monument, White House, and a coterie of museums that have come to form the visual image of this City, one critical piece of infrastructure is the series of traffic circles that make it possible to get from one part of town to another. Names such as Ward, Sheridan, Tenley, Dupont, and Logan attach themselves to these circles where thousands of vehicles and pedestrians cross each day as they make their way from one Very Important Meeting to the next.

 

The thing about these circles is that they can be difficult to negotiate. With so much rush, rush traffic whirling about, changing lanes, entering and exiting at multiple points, it requires a certain amount of verve to enter the fray. One doesn’t just casually approach Dupont Circle—you must take into consideration the speed and flow of traffic, the number of lane changes required to get to the spoke you wish to exit on, and the wild cards such as jaywalkers, non-signal types, and whether or not the traffic lights are out. Not for the feint of heart.

 

Alas, it goes without saying that far too many drivers who are not familiar with negotiating these large traffic circles push their way into the fracas, causing problems of their own. All too often, I find myself stuck behind one, terrified to enter the nonstop stream of humanity that they must get past in order to reach Point B. Such hesitation on their part triggers an irritation in me that I can only link to my more aggressive City Girl tendencies. Unlike these motorists, I am accustomed to and unafraid of the circles; I take an unreasonable amount of pride in my ability to display bold finesse in identifying and seizing the traffic openings before they present themselves. But, such talents are impossible to use when other (more timid) commuters are blocking me. Argh.

 

So, what does this have to do with re-booting?

 

Well, a couple of things. We are, each of us, the Capital of our own nation. We each must negotiate the traffic circles that transect the various parts of our lives: child to adult, private to public; professional to social. Most of the time, we know where we want to go. Sometimes, we get stuck going round and round (metaphorically speaking), unable to exit if we refuse to learn new strategies to negotiate our way through some challenge. What I mean by this is, think of someone who, repeatedly, creates and re-creates a particular problem for themselves. Why? Because they refuse to acknowledge that their approach ain’t working. Instead, they trap themselves in a whirlpool of their own making, repeating their mistakes. Sound familiar?

 

Second, as we proceed through life, focused on achieving forward momentum, more often than not, there will be something (or someone) who interferes, delaying us from the instant gratification of making progress. If you suffer from a lack of patience (as do I), this can send one into paroxysms of frustration. The trick is to remember that these obstructions—whether they be traffic or bumps in the road—are only temporary. When feeling stymied by the actions of others, I try to remind myself that these hesitant drivers want to get somewhere, too; they don’t want to sit at the traffic circle simply to watch other cars pass them by! Why is this important? It’s important for several reasons: 1. Just because someone has interfered with your timetable by getting in your way does not mean their behavior is personal against you; 2. The delay is short-lived and will not interfere with your achieving your ultimate goal of where you need to be; and 3. Traffic (and life) is like this; there will always be others crowding around you, trying to get somewhere, and it’s your responsibility to take this into consideration when formulating your plans. Delay does not mean defeat.

 

I mean, how foolhardy would it be for me to plan a trip to Georgetown allowing for a mere 15 minutes to get hither and yon (including parking), despite the fact that if the streets were clear, that would be about right? The streets of our lives are never clear! There are always other journeymen to consider. Aren’t you better off expecting this, planning for it, and enjoying the circle fountains or plantings while you wait? If you zipped right through, you’d never even notice.

 

So, next time you’re stuck behind some yahoo, try to think of this as an analogy for your life. Practice the patience and goodwill you would hope someone would extend to you if you were a little bit unsure. While you’re waiting to go, look around and see if you can spot anything surprising. Maybe you’ll be glad you did.

 

Fun fact: The two men General Washington commissioned in 1791 to conduct the critically important original survey for the planned Federal City were Marylanders Andrew Ellicott and Benjamin Banneker. Ellicott, a veteran of the Revolutionary War, was from a prominent Quaker family for whom Ellicott City, MD is named  [why would a Quaker be fighting a war?]. Benjamin Banneker, a Baltimore native whose father was a freed slave, was an autodidact who learned astronomy and surveying as a result of using books lent to him by Andrew Ellicott’s father. Banneker corresponded with Thomas Jefferson on the issues of slavery and racial equality.

Spicy and Untamed

September 17, 2013

No, this is not the beginning of a porno, sorry to frustrate you. We here at Re-booter Central share your false hope and bitter disappointment, but have opted for a slightly different emphasis than one pursued by the likes of Carlos Danger and Sydney Leathers. (Can I just say that this particular plot point serves as evidence that the Universe has a great sense of humor?)

Rather, the direction I choose to take with this post lends itself to a more G-rated exploration of one of the themes highlighted on this blog—who we are within. What part of you is wild and potentially unnerving to others? For example, perhaps there’s a part of you that identifies with the titan arum, aka the Corpse Flower, which released its fetid stink at the US Botanic Garden this summer. Or maybe you envision parallels between you and the spirit of a feral horse, before Genghis Khan got his hands on ‘em and conquered most of Eurasia. I’m willing to place money on the fact that you know there’s an element to your persona that almost no one would guess is there—something undomesticated, brazen, and anti-social.

When playing with this notion of our being spicy and untamed, I figure most folks prefer nurturing their fantasy than making it real–perhaps, I’m wrong. But the Carlos Dangerous tendencies we each harbor don’t automatically necessitate appalling secrets. To me, it suggests an orneriness of spirit that no matter what responsibilities we have in our lives, or whatever level of social acceptance we ascribe to, there is a stubborn vein of primal matter in us that we know cannot be extinguished.

What is your most rebellious image of yourself? What about it do you find so appealing? Is this something you want or is it more as a reaction against something else? Is there any strategy you could use that might allow you to express it, even a little bit?

Hmm, sounds like fun…

The thing about such fantasies is that they exist because there’s a part of us that we consider forbidden and unacceptable; and, in polite society, we may very well be correct in our assessment. But, I don’t believe there’s a single person out there who doesn’t harbor such thoughts. Nary a one of us is fully realized. While the most obvious examples of spicy and untamed typically involve sex, I’m more interested in focusing on aspects of our lives beyond that. So, let’s take sexual proclivities off the table and refocus on other ways we’d like to rebel. What hidden element of you remains untamed?

Have you dreamed of walking away from your law practice to become a park ranger? How about never having to attend any more family holiday meals—ever. Maybe you enjoy watching boxing more than you think you should. What if you told your hunting-enthusiast spouse you’ve never liked eating duck, even after 15 years of doing so? Would professing contrary political views from your cadre of cohorts send them into cardiac arrest? I’ve just provided examples of family, food, money, violence, and politics—yeah, all the marquee topics. Do you think it’s possible that your public life might continue even after confessing such appetites? Can you embrace the rebel within? Unbridled freedom can feel scary, can’t it?

The thing about Re-booters is that we’re willing to consider our hidden truths and contradictions. Maybe our fears are inflated. Maybe our fantasies never will see the light of day, but respecting the fact that they exist allows us to understand ourselves better. It also establishes an empathy with others who wrestle with their own variety of spice. I, for one, like a bit of feral horse—it makes life way more interesting.

Change Comes to Us Whether We Like It or Not

September 12, 2013

Ok, so twice now, in the past week, I have been branded as a shockingly backward Luddite. Do you know about the Luddites? No doubt you’ve heard of them, but do you know what happened? The Luddites were 19th-century English textile artisans who protested against newly developed labor saving devices; weavers burned mills and pieces of factory machinery introduced during the Industrial Revolution. After a variety of such protests, the British Government decided to suppress the Movement by conducting a mass trial—really, a demonstration intended to deter others from continuing their protest activities. By meting out harsh consequences, including, in many cases, execution, the trials quickly ended the movement. I’ll bet.

Fast forward 200 years, and my lack of fully embracing certain career-oriented, social media tools has inspired friends to compare my dearth of tech skills to not knowing how to use the telephone. In addition, I received a lecture on the verboten quality of referring to a case law updating technique called “shepardizing,” unless as a joke because it’s so outmoded. Uh oh. It appears that, despite the best efforts of the British Government, the Luddite spirit is alive and well in me. Hmm. Does any of this ring a bell for you?

I fully admit to being resistant to allowing the information overload that is the Internet to infiltrate my life more than it already has, but as I type this, I recall a scene in a play where a woman was bemoaning the switch over to electricity from hurricane glass encased candles. So, there you have it: this is my dilemma.

Of course there are a whole lot of folks out there who loathe change—of any sort. But, as I’ve had the opportunity to learn on repeated occasions, it doesn’t matter what we want. Change comes to us whether we like it or not. It’s a little bit like resisting the tide: you aren’t going to win this one and opposition is futile. So, how do we assess what constitutes “necessary change” versus change that, really, has little import in our lives? This question extends far beyond embracing technology to things such as shifting the way we relate to our children as they grow, or acknowledging that, perhaps, holding firm to the idea that our siblings continue to think like eleven year olds may not be the most successful strategy. People, relationships, technology, traditions all of these vastly different parts of our lives are subject to transformation—we have no choice in the matter, and a refusal to go along with this, a refusal to bend (versus break) won’t stop the change from happening. It only leaves us behind. While this is a truth that everyone must confront, Re-booters have a leg up on this because we know better. Bitter medicine, yes, but we’re way better off if we take it.

My resistance to some of these technologies, primarily, comes from the fact that I get overwhelmed by too much information. To have a deluge of unsolicited updates coming at me feels like an assault; plus, much of it is garbage that does nothing to enhance my understanding of the world. I’d just as soon not expose myself to these elements. But, I recognize that many people don’t think this way—they love receiving the updates. For instance, a friend and I are exact opposites: they will look at every single ad in the newspaper just because they’re interested. I don’t even see the ads since I already know I’m not in the market to buy.

We each are so, so different when it comes to processing information, and the amount of information that crosses our radar screens is exponentially larger now than it was, even, say, ten years ago. It staggers me how much life, how much business, and how much networking and social connection has changed as a result of the Internet. So, what does this have to do with re-booting and those of us still clinging to our Luddite-like tendencies? It means we have to let go. We don’t get to do it all the way we are accustomed. We’ve got to suck it up and learn to embrace this modern life. I mean, who wants to be that old lady, sitting in her darkened parlor, complete with creepy shadows and flickering candles?

Galileo, Darwin, and our Heretical Heritage

September 10, 2013

To me, the most significant, revolutionary, and vibrant contribution of Western civilization is the cultivation and nurturing of bold ideas, whatever they may be. This concept is most famously expressed in the First Amendment of the US Constitution that includes the prohibition against the creation of any law that abridges the freedom of speech. Although there are as many disturbing and offensive proposals as constructive ones, any idea worth its salt can withstand the challenge presented by scrutiny. Alas, of late, ideas and unpopular opinions are being attacked under the guise of “sensitivity concerns” promulgated by disturbingly repressive university speech codes.

 

But the focus of today’s post is on personal heresy—who defines it, who enforces it, and why it’s crucial for us to think our heretical thoughts.

 

In 1633, Galileo was called to Rome to face charges from the Inquisition regarding his theories of heliocentrism. Pope Urban VIII, plagued with mounting court intrigue and accusations by a Spanish cardinal that he was “soft on defending the Church,” decided that it served papal purposes if his former friend, Galileo, were forced to recant his sacrilegious speculations. Charged and convicted under “vehement suspicion of heresy,” Galileo recanted, spending the remainder of his life under house arrest. Legend has it that after this declaration of guilt, the astronomer muttered, “And yet it moves.”

 

Approximately two hundred years later, Charles Darwin began developing his theory of evolution, sketching out a tree-like pattern of transmutation from common ancestors. Recognizing that his suspicions flouted literal interpretations of Biblical scripture as well as the widely held 19th century Christian doctrine of the Great Chain of Being (in which all living organisms has their proper place in a fixed, immutable order with Man at the top), Darwin knew how controversial his theories were–so much so that he recorded them only in his secret B Notebook. He understood that ridicule and vitriolic accusations of heresy were inevitable if he chose to publicize these ideas. In time, he overcame such concerns and published On the Origin of the Species in 1859, forever changing the discourse and understanding of humanity’s origins.

 

Both men took great personal risk, encountering moral and social opprobrium for promoting these theories. Their stories are two of the most well known, but the threat of accusations of heresy exist all around us: they exist in politics; they exist in religion; they exist in our social circles, our family codes, and our private expectations. Difficulties inevitably arise when we begin to stray from such canons, when we begin thinking our own, unorthodox thoughts.

 

But, forbidding yourself to play around with possibilities, to reconsider, to change your mind, to refuse to question the ground rules–this is a highly dangerous way to live. It can sap your soul and the ideas themselves never, truly disappear. I say all this in the context of the lives we lead, the responsibilities & duties we’ve assumed and must uphold. It doesn’t mean all your meditations will be good ones. It doesn’t mean you will act on them. But, they are the thoughts you are thinking. As such, you may as well know they’re there. Besides, whatever it is you’re mulling over, someone else has already considered the exact same possibility you’re flirting with. Heretical thoughts are only heretical for those who decree them as such. Here are some forbidden examples:

 

Maybe the children don’t always have to come first; maybe it depends on the context.

Maybe I don’t have to do it this way.

Just because I believed I needed to do that then, I don’t need to keep doing the same thing now.

When you say “common decency” or “loyalty” or “family” demands I do X, do I really?

Why is your definition/way of doing things/standards better?

Do the threatened consequences actually have the power to destroy everything in my life?

Your potential anger/disappointment/hurt doesn’t have to dictate all the terms.

No matter what happens, this one episode/relationship is not my sole defining moment.

 

Thoughts like this are every bit as profane as what Galileo or Darwin put forward. Somewhere in our lives, we all need a secret B Notebook, a place where we can safely explore the possibilities that might scare the Dickens out of ourself or those close to us. They won’t all be good ideas and we won’t act on them all, but repressing notions, trying to cow ourselves into submission utilizing an Armageddon-like warning for giving such notions even a bit of oxygen, well that’s the true tragedy.

 

As the beneficiaries of all the freedoms Western civilization has bestowed upon us, Re-booters owe it to ourselves to muster the courage to think our heretical thoughts, be they personal, familial, religious, political, or societal. We owe it to those brave thinkers who came before. Once you start to repress your ideas—no matter how modest or revolutionary–the world gets smaller, darker, and a far more fearful place to be.

 

Homework assignment: I want you to give yourself permission to allow your most heretical thoughts to float through your mind. Where are the red lines in your life? Just who is setting the standards you resist and threatening dire consequences? Are you imposing such norms on others? What possibility are you most afraid of? Why?

In Washington, They Eat Their Young

September 5, 2013

I don’t know if this is true in any other part of the country, but I speak with great authority on the Mid-Atlantic cultural exchange that is the DC cocktail party circuit. Such events are the lifeblood of this town—business gets done, relationships are brokered, and information traded—nearly all of it under the guise of social banter and the entertaining tale. As one of my high school friends said when describing her mother, “She never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.”

 

I was born into a family of party animals—they lived and breathed the cocktail social circuit; it confounded some of them how it was possible that I was their progeny, dragging my feet, unwilling to wholeheartedly participate in this ritual. Don’t get me wrong: I learned how to do it. I learned from masters, and am highly adept at striking up and maintaining a conversation with anyone. It’s a powerful skill to have and I’m glad it’s in my toolbox, but what appalls me is the gleeful willingness of people in Washington to offer up the struggles of others as cocktail currency (aka cannon fodder). I’m not exaggerating when I say this.

 

Take any vulnerable moment of your life and imagine how you’d feel if someone in whom you confided and went to for support thought nothing of sharing your story. Anticipating chortles, chuckles, and entertained derision from their audience, they see this merely as another topic meant to while away the minutes between the next round of canapés. I can’t recall a single gossipmonger character that Shakespeare portrayed in a sympathetic light, can you?

 

So, what does this carnivorous, odious behavior have to do with re-booting? Well, as Re-booters, we need to take strength from and remind ourselves that the thoughtless cruelty of others will not kill us (and it certainly does not reflect well upon them). Alas, whether or not you grew up on a cocktail circuit, we all have been subject to and heard (let alone disseminated) unkind chitchat. There’s not a whole lot more to add on this topic—it’s sufficiently challenging to keep these maxims in mind when you feel humiliated, betrayed, or just hugely disappointed by someone you thought you could trust. There’s nearly nothing we can do to combat such behavior, lest we stoop to their level—and a re-booter knows this doesn’t help.

 

There’s so much I wish I could have said to my younger self when watching this go on. I understand that, sometimes, thoughtless cruelty is just that—thoughtless, not intended to inflict the sort of hurt that follows; we all are guilty of this at some point or other in our lives. But what does confound me is the lack of forethought or genuine concern for the consequences of such actions. Whether it’s a dad screaming at his son on the ball field–witnessed and subsequently shared by other parents in the stands, or it’s a narcissistic boss who takes personal confidences and spreads a distorted version of them amongst work colleagues, or any scenario in between, the cannibalizing of one’s private hopes and struggles is a terrible thing to experience. But it won’t kill us. A re-booter remembers this truth.

Epigenetics and Mysterious Influences

September 3, 2013

For those of you who require a refresher on genetics and DNA sequencing, all things biological boil down to the arrangement of the 4 DNA bases: A, T, C, and G. The combinations of these four bases constitute our genetic code, which is incorporated in each of our cells. These same bases also serve as the building blocks for viruses which can make us sick, and it is the study of the composition of these viruses that is the impetus for Big Pharma and medical researchers round the globe.

 

But, as is so often the case, science cannot explain everything that happens to us—changes in our body occur that are not reflected in altered DNA sequencing. It is this mysterious X factor that constitutes the area of research known as epigenetics. According to Wikipedia, epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression… caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

 

Ok, so what does this mean and how does this relate to re-booting?

 

Utterly Fabricated Illustration: what this means is that a sequence such as ATTGCAC programs the production of, say, Protein 1. At some point, for some mysterious reason, the body stops making Protein 1 and begins generating another protein, despite the fact that the original, underlying sequence (which produced Protein 1) is unchanged. Nothing detectable about the situation has changed, except for the final outcome of the specific protein produced. So, what’s going on here?

 

This epigenetics example is a way to examine what can happen in some re-booters’ lives. There may be nothing on the surface that has changed in your life, and yet, you have changed. Maybe no one else can see it. Maybe you can’t even articulate to yourself what it is that’s going on, but you know you aren’t as you were. Things that used to be important to you are no longer. All of a sudden, you start thinking about someone you relegated to the past long ago or, perhaps, you become intrigued by something that had never previously interested you, for no reason you can articulate. It just happened.

 

Now, admitting that 90% of science is, alas, beyond my ability to comprehend, what excites me about epigenetics is all the implications that it suggests! To begin with, we’re obviously missing the correct vocabulary and technology to identify what is the source of the change because we know the change exists. This, then, reminds us that we don’t hold all the facts or have a complete picture of the circumstances. I think this point is well worth emphasizing because so often in life—let alone in our media soaked culture—messages are presented to us as though all angles have been considered, a complete picture is rendered for us, ready made. Donald Rumsfeld was spot on when he referred to unknown unknowns: we don’t know what we don’t know. Now, this statement has been ridiculed by many over the years, but I embrace it. To posit that any of us has a complete and full grasp of a situation with so many moving and ill-defined parts, well, that’s the very definition of hubris, isn’t it?

 

“We don’t know what we don’t know.” The difference between this and epigenetics is that we can, for the latter, definitively identify that a specific change has occurred.

 

I may be talking in circles, but what I’m trying to get at for purposes of this post is that there are times in our lives when internal changes arise and we can’t explain why or what, exactly, the difference is. We only recognize the symptoms of change: a new interest in something or an alteration in our priorities when nothing about our immediate situation has prompted such. Transformations such as these are exciting and terrifying because we don’t know what will follow, but it is the mysterious forces behind unexpected change that intrigue me far more. What is at work here? What else might be called into play? What tools am I lacking to detect and understand these forces? It’s a bit like the misnomer of junk DNA—there is no such thing, but researchers called it that, initially, because they lacked the capacity to understand what it was.

 

As re-booters, we may be more attuned than others to internal change, and some of these conversions may make no sense when we think about them. In a world where we’re always trying to define and encapsulate our experience, the temptation to dismiss such change reflects either fear or the same dearth of tools that confront researchers today when exploring epigenetics.

 

This is only food for thought, but it’s useful to keep in mind…


%d bloggers like this: