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24 October 2010

Know Your Place!

On your limitations

I have been tempted on a few occasions to advise a slower student to “except your limitations,” though this is a phrase that has never escaped my lips.  And thankfully, too.  It is advice often given by those much more or much less talented than the person to whom it is given, or by professors, teachers, or parents who, in their haste, have forgotten the milk of human kindness and temperance in their words.

Limitations are sometimes about true inabilities, but are often about compromise, and compromise in and of itself can be a benefit to mankind.  There are at least two ways of dealing with any problem, and to bridge the gap between ideologues compromise is what is needed.  But in many endeavors, compromise is a travesty far worse than the grievance it seeks to address.  The Allies were right not to compromise with Hitler, though sadly we now compromise with regimes indistinguishable from Hitler, save in size of force.

In domestic relationships, compromise is inescapable.  Traditionally, women made disproportionate compromises in life, sacrificing intellectual possibilities to care for parents, children, and husbands.  In modern relationships, failure often happens because people change over time, and they never think to renegotiate their unspoken compromises to fit their new needs and expectations.

Then, there is the compromise one makes with one’s self.  If a thick-fingered and tin-eared cousin is spending two hours a day in vain attempting to learn the cello, should he not cease such time-wasting and accept his limitations?  Well, no.  If he has dreams of playing Carnegie Hall next year, those aspirations need gentle reigning in, not destruction.  And it is, in the end, his call on what his limitations are.

Even more often, ‘accepting your limitations’ is a reaction to the first failings on any difficult endeavor.  The phrase denotes weariness and retreat, not a true account of abilities, and certainly not an examination of the reasons to attempt the endeavor itself.  Your cousin may never reach the summit of the cello world, may never play Bach’s first concerto like a master.  But, as when climbing any difficult mountain, even if one never reaches the summit, or comes close, the views as one climbs are far more breathtaking than those at the base, if for no other reason than they had to be worked for in order to be enjoyed.

Perhaps the one compromise we should never make is with life.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully spoken.

    I believe in the impermanence of all things. Which makes me think, what then are our limitations? I am a rational person and understand that, of course, humans have limitations bound by scientific laws (I can't defy gravity without special equipment, for example). And some are limited in their physical capacities by handicaps and so forth.

    But what I am thinking about are (what I believe to be) self-imposed limitations. This brings me back to my opening statement. Since I accept that all things are temporary, I must believe in enormous possibilities. Here, I think people in general, slight themselves by not opening themselves up to the world of what could be. And here I must quote one very influential author for myself, “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize." (Thich Nhat Hanh)
    That is the quote that popped in my head when I read your post. I think you are right on target about not making compromises with life, in the way you described. For what is the point if in each moment we aren't absorbed the activities (or non activities) that make us joyful?

    Sorry if my new-found religion is too blatant in my posts. I'll try to tone it down if it comes out too much. Proselytizing is absolutely against my principles. Plus, it's just always annoyed the sh*t outta me.