Tuesday, June 23, 2009

On the nature of responsibility and excuses

To start, a news update: yesterday (I think), an American aid worker who had lived in-country for six years was attacked by would-be kidnappers, allegedly associated with al-Qaeda. When he resisted their kidnapping, one or more shot him in the head or face with handguns. He died. This happened in Nouakchott, Mauritania. Peace Corps has not told the Invitees anything about the situation, probably because it is too early to know anything. It is something of which it is good to be aware, though. If you want more information, do a news search for "Mauritania" in Google or the search engine of your choice. I am not posting my speculations about the situation, because they're not founded on much of anything more than you would find in the news. Plus, I have been through this sort of thing before, although it is more disconcerting than Madagascar's situation. Why? Because in Madagascar, the violence and unrest was internal, directed by part of the population at its president/ruling party. An attack on an aid worker, especially an American aid worker, is not at all internal. It isn't necessarily personal, but it strikes a lot closer to home, for obvious reasons--as such, it is more unnerving than Madagascar.

What I really wanted to write about, though, is the culmination of responsibility that I feel weighing on my mind. I do not know whether it is the Cornell culture of frantic working just to keep up and the eventual (and inevitable) metastasis of that consciousness or simply a result of something me-specific, but I'm sinking underneath it just a little (no, Peace Corps, I am not mentally unfit, just philosophically introspective with a side of metaphor). Let's be clear: I am not sinking INTO a depression, just into a swamp of feeling as though I failed to fulfill some pretty basic responsibilities through an inadequacy entirely the result of poor choices. For those of you who are not used to talking with me about my feelings, this is the feeling of having procrastinated on an assignment for no good reason and to no good purpose and knowing that any day now you will be called out for not having completed it. Additionally, the current circumstances are such that you know you cannot complete it before being called out, so it is a matter of time...for those of you who do not know this feeling, congratulations, you have disgustingly healthy work ethic.

So, we know that feeling responsible does not in fact have anything to do with where the responsibility lies. Otherwise, all the decent people in the world would be overwhelmed with responsibility and everyone else would be totally free of it. For some interactions, there would e no responsibility anywhere, while for others, there would be a double helping. Thermodynamically, this cannot be true (yes, yes, I know, but bear with me). This does not help, though.

I had a conversation with a close friend recently in which we discussed productivity, achievement, and the perceived level of requirement relating to each. We have both known people who, although extremely capable, for one reason or another were prevented from achieving at a corresponding level. For some, this was the result of decisions. For some, it was not. For me, it is not an option to not do as well as I can. Less that seem a tautology (or an outright lie), yes, there have been extenuating circumstances and yes, there have been plenty of times in which I did not demonstrate my capacity, but as a general rule, that is true. Further, "doing as well as I can," means in fact my raw ability, not my ability under certain circumstances.

At what am I getting, anyway? Well, I feel oddly culpable for not having left for Peace Corps yet. As if, somehow, it related to my choices, or my preparation level, or something like that, that this is becoming such a production. Clearly it does not, but it is interesting, and it is there. So, my apology to everyone--I am sorry I have not yet left the country, I swear I'm trying, and for all of those I have put through an absurd number of goodbyes, well, I'm sorry about that, too. There is also more than a vague suspicion that nobody--including me-- is ever going to believe me that I am leaving anywhere ever again.

In other news, congratulations and felicitations to Nick and Sam, who got married this past weekend! If you read the New York Times, you probably saw the beautiful picture of the two of them (I did not see it, but it is online, and I saw it there). Hooray!

1 comment:

canyon wren said...

AIEEEEEEEEE, "al-queda associated kidnapping and murder in RIM" certainly does nothing for my peace of mind.

and i grieve over yet another life sacrificed on the altar of terrorism.

another humaitarian activist martyred

i just want to be on record for having received the information, and offer my encouragement and support. as one of those to whom you have repeatedly said good by, i have this to say: "this is not something you could have prevented. this has nothing to do with you"

and right this minute i am so glad you are far from RIM.

irrational!!!! you could be killed crossing the street in front of whitby, and i know it. i could be killed crossing the street to the mailbox, too.

oh, to protect ourselves from the fragility of our existence!

i guess this is an illustration of exactly how little control we actually have.

yes, our efforts, actions, thoughts & attitudes influence outcomes, and we have to proceed as if we are in control, because sometimes they directly determine outcomes. what makes it a challenge and a puzzle is that we never know when it is going to turn out like this, and NOTHING a person could have done would affected this outcome.

like all those funny taoist maxims (help by not helping, do by not doing, give by not giving) we are not in control of when we are not in control.

unlikely anyone else would have written you this, it has amomynous written all over it.

i love you,