Quotes of the day: ostensibly about grief, but really about value

Aug 25 2015 Published by under Uncategorized

From Mark Twain

Nothing that grieves us can be called little: by the eternal laws of proportion a child's loss of a doll and a king's loss of a crown are events of the same size.

and another version of the same thing:

The dreamer's valuation of a thing lost--not another man's--is the only standard to measure it by, and his grief for it makes it large and great and fine, and is worthy of our reverence in all cases.

Grief can lay one to waste, and lost in the deep dark places of one's heart. Some find their way out of grief and others do not. For me, personally, I mourn someone I love who was lost to the grief of loss.

But the Twain quotes are about more than grief. I have tried to say this about other things, particularly the challenges of work and science. As we all battle the challenges of our every day, in science or elsewhere, there are mountains and landmines, to be climbed, to be avoided. At best, do not belittle others. Yes, they may live in flyover country. They may find the rejection of a manuscript to be the same as your denial of tenure, as ridiculous as that may seem to you.

Yet, the implications of a definitive do-not-resubmit manuscript rejection, where the potential for salvage is relatively easy in terms of hours and effort, and the loss of a job, where the potential for salvage could will likely involve massive life upheaval, are not quite the same. Even if the people feeling them have the same sense of loss.

And thus, the ultimate danger of equating all loss is sliding into solipsism, where nothing but one's own perspective and one's own grief matters. As in so much of life, balance, perspective and ability to step outside one's self is critical. Of course it is much more satisfying to see the world in black and white. It is much easier to see bad guys and good guys, cool women and jackasses. The Lord of the Rings is based on the idea that good is good and bad is bad, and good has good skin, teeth, posture and hair, and therefore is easily recognized. Learning to appreciate others grief and loss and problems and bad teeth and poor choice of home state is often worth the effort. One comes back with a renewed appreciation and a finer sense of both the pluses and minuses of one's own station. And, fuck, if you can't do that, you have no business being a mentor for anyone else.

Footnote: an interesting critique of the New Yorker cartoons along these lines can be found here.



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