This may surprise those who haven't seen me for a couple years, but, until yesterday, I had hair down to my shoulders and a beard down to my collarbones. I just cut it all off. No transition period. No remorse. I just let the barber run wild with the clippers. I didn't want to go halfway. If I can't have hair past my shoulders, I might as well cut it off. This is a pattern in my life.
I tend to think in absolutes. Maybe I'm a perfectionist. I catch myself saying things like, "Oh, it's gonna rain this afternoon. I'd better wear a raincoat all morning;" or, "What an unpleasant person. They said something annoying, so I guess our friendship is over." I'm guilty of working on a project until it's perfect, rather than just until it's done. I know I'm not articulating it very well, but it's in the same vein as my post on judging the quality of a day based on the things that happen on that day. It's part of my writer's block too! I think to myself, "If you can't write a post that's insightful and life-altering, you might as well not write at all."
I can't, however, put my finger on what exactly the problem is. This attitude can be boiled down to, "If you're already throwing out the bathwater, you might as well throw the baby too!" (Or is that statement a mischaracterization based on my absolutist attitude?)
And here's another thing: the consequences of this attitude aren't completely bad! In fact, my black-and-white view of things has motivated me to work hard, practice regularly, and learn thoroughly. It's helped me finish the things I start, resuscitate cooled relationships, and maintain good physical health. Instead of talking about babies and bathwater, I could say, "If something's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
In calculus class, we did an exercise. The teacher gave us 100 yards of fence and told us to make the biggest pasture possible with that fence. (Of course, this was all on paper. We didn't get real fence.)
I did the most obvious thing: I made a perfectly circular pasture with an area of about 795 square yards. For some reason, the teacher wasn't amused. He said, "Ah yes, you've fallen for the optimization trap!"
In the unrealistic situation where a rancher comes in and says, "Hey! I have a hundred yards of fence. Make me the biggest dogone pasture you can!" if you give him a circular pasture, you might wake up with boots in very uncomfortable places.
In reality, pastures have to have straight sides. If you want large pasture, yes, a circle is the most efficient use of fencing, but when you try to have several circular pastures near each other, you'll find there are gaps between the circles. Can you imagine a ranch with a map that looks like this?
The most efficient way to pack circles is with "hexagonal packing." While you're at it, why don't you just go ahead and fill in the gaps? That leads to a bunch of hexagonal fences which is the proven most efficient way to enclose the maximal area with the minal amount of fence. That comes with a lot of assumptions, though: all the hexagons have to be the same size; all the hexagons have to be regular, equilateral hexagons; the cost of installing hexagonal fencing would have to be the same as installing any other type of fencing; etc.
In reality, we should stick with rectangular pastures for now. Even though we can mathematically prove that the fence to area ratio is the best for hexagonal pastures, every other measurement tells us it's a bad idea.
Right now, I can mathematically prove that the best way to move through life is to help as many people as possible and reduce as much suffering as possible.
But what about just helping one person? What about helping a few people who would otherwise receive nothing? What about teaching and enabling a dozen other people to help as many people as possible and reduce as much suffering as possible?
I want to do the most with my life, but building hexagonal pastures would be a waste of time. How can I come to understand the factors of reality that affect what I should do each day?
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