June 10, 2004

The Parable of Banging-Your-Head-Against-The-Wall

Once upon a time, a hapless activist contemplated the lack of effect, and personal costs, of banging your head against the wall.

Start of scene: Me, banging head against the wall: bang! ouch! bang! ouch! bang! ouch! ...

Then I received much "advice".

Me: "Maybe I should stop banging my head against the wall. It hurts. And it doesn't seem to be affecting the wall in any way."

Advice-Giver: "Bang your head harder. But don't ever say "ouch", because nobody likes a whiner. And look, you made a blood smudge on the wall, isn't that worthwhile?"

[Attempts to take "advice"]

Me: [Bang!] "Ow" [Bang!] Ouch, that's painful!

Advice-Giver: "Keep at it. And remember, I told you to stop saying "ouch". Maybe you should consider that you're not making any progress because you moan and groan so much? And that bloody smudge is even bigger now, isn't that progress?"

[one more time]


Advice-Giver: "Well, I've given you my advice, and you just won't follow it. It's obvious that you get some deep satisfaction from playing the victim, since I've repeatedly said you shouldn't complain and you keep doing it. It's all your fault, since you won't do what I say. And you shouldn't be surprised that the wall is still there, with an attitude like yours."

The above is only slightly fictional.

Folks (to whom this applies), if your "advice" is essentially:

1) Work harder
2) Have a positive attitude
3) Settle for whatever you get

Then that is in fact utterly useless. Because it can be said for anything, regardless of merit or lack thereof. So it has no value in distinguishing good from bad. It's a secular version of "Trust in God, and if you fail, it's because your faith was weak.". That's not helpful.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , memoirs | on June 10, 2004 11:59 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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I don't remember who said it first, but I believe the best advice for you was:

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then stop. Life is too short."

Which you did. Sensibly, I believe. (That is, try a couple more times, then stop.)

Posted by: Walt Crawford at June 11, 2004 10:34 AM