Always new horizons
So I think it’s fair to ask why someone who’s coming from outside the field suddenly takes a dive into discussions of transit economics and policy. You’d be justified in asking what I expect to achieve, and if I really expect to have anyone take note of the thoughts I share here, let alone act on them.
All I can offer by way of answer is that I rarely, if ever, expect the things I write to result in any effect at all: not in the discourse-worlds we spin for ourselves, certainly not “out there” in actuality. At most, if I’ve done a very good job, and have gotten very lucky besides, something I write may move the Overton window one or two notches in the right direction. (That’s a pretty good definition of success, right there.)
But to be honest, a not-insignificant part of my motivation in trying new things on for size is selfish. I’m aiming to recapture that wonderful quality practitioners of Zen call “beginner’s mind,” after a lecture by the Soto master Shunryu Suzuki.
As Suzuki described it, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” If you’re coming fresh to a field of endeavor, no direction is a priori foreclosed to you. You’re still able to ask the “stupid” questions — the questions that often do, in fact, pan out to be stupid, but occasionally produce revelatory insight.
You’re also exquisitely careful to observe correct form, whether that form involves sitting meditation, driving a stickshift or starting a business. You’ll likely get most everything wrong, of course, but you haven’t yet learned to be casual about it. Your every nerve ending will sing with the effort of sensing where you’ve succeeded, and where correction is required. Your entire body becomes consecrated to a single purpose.
Taking up a challenge that requires total dedication — whether that challenge is intellectual, social or physical — is one of the more reliable methods I know of inducing peak experience, but that sense of acute bodily awareness gets driven to extinction pretty quickly. It fades rapidly with habituation, with the acquisition of competence, let alone expertise. So anybody wired to get off this way has to keep looking for new things at which they can be a beginner.
That’s what I’m after, at least in part, any time I try to frame meaningful thoughts in a field not my own, and it’s the thrumming current running underneath a CV that otherwise looks an awful lot like a professional dilettante‘s. Always new horizons.
Adam Greenfield on TwitterMy Tweets
- My back pages: Ten chapters on ¡Tchkung! (1994) 11 July 2014
- Four ways of funding an urban intervention 23 June 2014
- I will not comment on the attendant irony 29 May 2014
- Weighing the pros and cons of driverless cars, in context 28 May 2014
- More questions on the smart city 26 May 2014
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