Comfortably Numbed (Part Three)

So when people like a thing too much, that’s bad. When people like the “wrong” thing, that’s bad. Is it just a matter of not liking anything? Is it a matter of deriving actual enjoyment out of something being considered childish? What about hobbies that get a lot of respect– woodworking, hunting, sports? What makes the difficulty of a hobby correlate directly to how acceptably it’s seen?

We’re conditioned from a very early age that expertise is important. We see people who are “good at” things and are told that we all have something unique that we’re good at. What’s left unsaid until late in life is that the things some folks are good at aren’t always obviously useful or appreciated. Being adept in, say, literary analysis may require just as much intelligence and instinctive talent as photographing sports, but one of those people isn’t desperately trying to find some work in their field and it ain’t the reader.

So, when you have to work for your living in something other than what interests you or what you’re best at because that thing perhaps isn’t a moneymaker, you seek out a community where you can express that like. This can be good or bad. If you find a community, way to go– they’ll help you develop your passion, and who knows, maybe you can parlay it into being your moneymaker. But if you find an enclave, you might find that they drag you further and further into an unhealthy obsession.

We specialize ourselves, and we define our worth by the difficulty of the thing we specialize in because of a false perception of profitability. Communications advances shatter that delusion. If your talent and joy lies with playing the shamisen (that’s a Japanese harp, Mom), and you live in Detroit, the problem isn’t with your talent, it’s that you haven’t connected with the right people who’ll pay you for your talents.

On the flip side, the difference between passion and obsession is just as subtle, but its separation has stood the test of time. Neil Postman wrote, “The key to all fanatical beliefs is that they are self-confirming. […They are] fanatical not because they are ‘false’, but because they are expressed in such a way that they can never be shown to be false.” Someone passionate will be receptive to changing their mind, given the right reasons. Someone obsessed sees no reason that opposes their beliefs as “right”.

I freely admit to being obsessed with stamping out obsession. This is something I deeply wish I could cure myself of, because it makes me a giant flaming hypocrite.