Jan 27, 2011

Why I Can’t Fly

You and I, We (or at least Most Other People) are too lazy. Either that or we’re too smart. We’re smart enough to not do anything that we don’t absolutely have to. You see this when people stand on escalators. They walk up to the escalator and then all of sudden it’s as if their legs become incapable of moving. They walk, walk, walk, and they will even climb stairs, but if those stairs are moving, then they will stop walking—even if the moving stairs are moving more slowly than they could move themselves. This is kind of mind-boggling. It’s as if it’s built into us not to do any more work than we have to. But who could blame us, really? Well, I could. Because this efficient laziness is efficient only if things stay the same. Creatures sprout wings when they need to fly and the wings start to devolve as soon as there’s no need for them. But there’s the problem. Who’s to say what we might need and when we might need it? Flying fish can escape predators that swim-only fish cannot. At that moment when the swim-only fish is being devoured and watching the flying fish fly away, the swim-only fish is thinking to itself, “I guess it wouldn’t have been such a waste of time and effort to grow those wings and practice flying.”

The problem with this efficient laziness is that not doing anything until you have to means that we don’t learn or grow until we have to. But why wait? Why stand on an escalator that is moving more slowly than you can walk? Annie Dillard, in one of her wonderful books, said something like, “Flat terrain leads to a dull mind.” I read somewhere that trees only usually gain rings every year but they don’t always gain a ring because the gaining of a ring is not due to the mere passing of time but due to an event and a reaction that usually occurs annually, such as a harsh winter. If a winter is particularly mild, then the tree doesn’t get a ring. You have to earn your stripes. This is the problem: In the middle of a mild winter, we have to pretend it’s harsher than it is and prepare solutions to problems that we haven’t encountered yet. Who would do that?

Would you?