Continuing to do what is right—and other forms of persistence
“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” —St. Paul, The Letter to the Galatians, 6:9
Sustained attention on creative engagement with a personal or collaborative project is a satisfying and fulfilling experience. We aspire to move from one peak experience to another, even when the project has ended or our persistence has degenerated into mere obsessive energy or perseveration. Maybe we even turn our persistence into other paths—eating, smoking, alcoholism, taking uppers or downers, shopping, gambling, doom-scrolling, or gaming. Psychologist William Glasser spoke to addicts about the untapped power of addiction. Certainly they knew the power of addiction—the power of impairment. But Glasser spoke of using this power in a positive way—of doing what was right for their lives—that is, finding behavior that did not disable them or diminish their options but instead led to growth and self-reinforcing achievements. Of course, describing personal care as “positive addiction” is like defining song as refined noise. Addiction, obsession, and perseveration are the unbalanced extremes of diligence and persistence. The mental noises of compulsions or flickering attention are distortions of the gentler sound of routines attending to the self. Filtering out distortions is no easy matter.
Any set of regularly repeated behaviors deserves periodic review. We may ask, “Why am I still doing this?” Or, “Why do I persist in doing this even though I’d rather not?” Presumably, New Year’s is the time to change habits—and this New Year will change national routines of government, to widespread grief and relief. But personal changes in diet, décor, exercise, spending, and taste are usually postponed after the first rush of determined enthusiasm. Here’s a thought: pick one routine.
Study it. Watch how it behaves. Describe it. Get to know it as an outside observer—or at least as what anthropologists call a “participant observer.” Notice when it happens. Describe the context of its appearance. Take your time to understand it. When you have elevated it to “a thing you notice,” rather than only a “thing you just do,” have a discussion with it.
In order to have a good critical discussion, you need to know the criteria that you value. What are your aspirations? What is the kind of behavior that most suits you? What is a productive behavior that you want to sustain because such persistence fulfills your aspiration? In Glasser’s terms, it is a behavior that makes a bigger you. It does not diminish or disable you but instead leads to growth. Compare the routine you have studied with your values. How may the routine be altered to strengthen your aspirations?
Sometimes we run on automatic but believe that we are persisting in well-doing. As the New Year drags behind it the unsettled turmoil, hatreds, biases, controversies, and sickness of the Old Year, we could do worse than to study and alter a few routines. Dr. King’s comment is often quoted: ”It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Perhaps we can improve at discovering the right thing by studying what we already do routinely.
|FRAMESHIFTS IN 2021 |
The new year begins with the promotion of a new book, PushBack: Selected Poems of Resistance, with three sections: I. Instruct the Grieving Heart, II. Equalize Mental Static, and III. PushBack. A new author landing site describes this work and other new work, such as a series of FlipBooks. See https://formsofresistance.com/
Guests have been invited to write blogs on this site. No better way to shift your frame of reference than to listen carefully to another human being.
More book reviews of upcoming poetry collections will appear on this site. Two have already been posted. Changes to the website’s format and newsletter are underway. Newsletters will come more frequently. By the way, the allied site, marginalnotesinwordsandmusic.org, is currently down for repairs.
A few sermons, or sermonettes, as my army chaplain used to call them, will appear as blogs from time to time. I do not apologize for slipping occasionally into this form. Whether poems, stories, reviews, operas, essays, songs, or sermons, all are forms of resistance offered for your consideration and use. Resisting what? The answers are in the many forms. Happy New Year!
—Richard L. Rose
To perseverate is bad; to persevere is good. I have to remind myself about the difference between these words. I first learned about “perseverating” years ago when my young daughter was unconsolable. It was the first day of third grade, at a new school, and she was crying outside the building, asking over and over again, “Which door? Which door?” I tried to assure her that we could go through any door to get to her classroom, but she was too upset to be calmed down with reason. Her behavior on this, and similiar occassions, led me to learn about the psychological concept of perseverating. In contrast, “perseverance,” — especially in the face of adversity — is an admirable, laudable quality.
Thank you, Richard, for this meditation on how to stick to our resolutions. I’ll be observing one of my behaviors, as you suggest. I wonder what adversities create the anxieties that interfere with our resolve — or stoke it.
Robert Henri said that artists must first master their own materials. In trying to do this, I have found that I never get beyond working on myself because there is too much to be done.