Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

The “Ethos of Effort”

Originally posted on July 11, 2013

This term refers to the un-thought-out valuing of effort, trying hard, doing your best. I was a little delayed in popping out of bed, enjoying the relaxation of sleeping, then enjoying a relaxed contemplation, but I was a little jolted by a guilt spasm at my lackadaisical behavior. I heard the line from and old superego complex: “Be all you can be!”

I contemplated how persuasive it seemed. “Seems” is the operative word. It seemed sensible. But I suspected it might be an introject, a psycho-analytic bit of jargon referring to an idea or feeling that is accepted as so without much critical analysis. It’s like gulping your food, taking in stuff without sufficient mental “digestion.” Folks do this, you know, accept as true little clichés they’ve picked up from those whom they tend to follow—parents, teachers, higher-status peers, groups. It seems to be so. So this introject I call the “ethos of effort,” and it’s one of the relatively unquestioned bits of morality in our culture. Is this part of the Protestant, middle-class culture? (I recently read a book about leisure and ease that questioned this ethos—I’ll try to find it.)

In school, each teacher assigned homework as if we had no other teachers who also assigned homework. No one commented on the work load. It was like Marine Corps basic training: If you couldn’t cut it they cut you. That’s just life, or so we thought. It’s a nasty form of conditioning where the choice of roles to be played is given to the masters, whoever they may seem to be. It’s not thought through.

It turns out I play many roles and I really don’t like pushing myself. Outwardly, I’m viewed as productive, but inwardly I feel on the edge of lazy. Truth is somewhere in-between. There are a number of ways I enjoy doing and don’t feel pushed, and a number of ways that I could, maybe,  but I really don’t want to. I wouldn’t enjoy that role or role component. This fine distinction made in the elder years seems to be one that it would behoove people to know about.

It all depends on the number of roles—which include (please note) roles of relaxation, sleeping late, chatting with friends or spouse, leisurely dining, reading books, magazines. I’m  not even counting potential time-wasting of television, watching DVDs, sports, other vicarious activities. For some, these, too, belong within the mainstream of chosen life. The point here is that one can hardly excel in all roles—there are too many, each one has a gradient of effort and practice, and talent is not the same as enjoyment! You can be good at something and not like it very much.

Indeed, as tastes develop, and you begin to notice more clearly what you really like and how it differs from what you are supposed to like (because of so-called refined tastes that are actually largely dictated by taste-makers, professors, high-status experts, fashionistas, peers, etc.) and what in fact you do like—a process that can take many decades—you find that your preferences don’t always match up to cultural norms. (Also, a cultural norm is a phony construct that, because of its wide acceptance, may even numb people to noticing the immorality of the activity!)

So I am choosing where I want to put my energy, my priorities. Approaching death helps. I enjoy doing a lot of things, I feel the fear of missing out (FOMO) at the many things I choose not to do, things more flashy: I would see and be seen, I would be noticed! And anyway who cares about those other things that are trivial and lazy? I do!

The irony is that I hear the voice of my conscience saying, “But you don’t know what you want!” There’s just enough truth in this that it gets its foot in the door. Another conscious affirmation that I choose to make—it takes a little more work—is, “Wait, I’m established, highly educated, prolifically diploma’d , awarded, and certified; I’m almost 76 years old! If anyone knows, it’s me. Although it’s true that I don’t really really know, but perhaps that degree of confidence is temperamental? This bridges over to a related blog put up today.

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