Being ignorant is no sin. Remaining ignorant, is.
I wish I could remember where I read that quote – Heinlein? Bach? Voltaire? – because it’s been one that has stuck with me for as long as I’ve been doing critical thinking.
For a good deal of time (since puberty, at least) a good deal of that critical thinking and research has been devoted to the topic of love. Many kinds of love – filial, erotic, social, love with a capital-L and love hiding behind a shuffling blushing “kinda like” excuse. Love through the ages and love that flashes by in seconds. I really spend an inordinate amount of time reading about, writing about, talking about, and, yes, experimenting with, the topic of love.
It’s entirely possible that I’ve put in Gladwell’s requisite 10,000 hours of deliberate practice towards the subject of love (at the very least, in more than a year of working on this blog I’ve put in nearly a thousand hours specifically on the topic). So it would not be unheard of for me to claim the title of “expert” in the subject, if I were so inclined.
I’m not, in case you’re wondering. But I am certainly willing to stipulate that I do know a lot about it. But it’s a tricky subject, and unlike some other subjects, I think that love studies should come with a warning or two:
The more you study this subject, the less you will really understand it.
In addition, understanding the processes of love will not in any way guarantee your resistance to those processes.
The result of these two things is that greater expertise in this particular field is likely to be accompanied by a greater feeling of stupidity.
Forces of Nature
In this case, I’m using the word “stupidity” as defined in Merriam-Webster:
a : slow of mind
b : given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner
c : lacking intelligence or reason
Because that’s what love makes us do. It’s a chemical reaction, whether it’s the oxytocin buildup from proximity to a cat (or baby) or that rush of endorphins and dopamine that happens when you meet someone with the right “chemistry.” It changes how we think, how we act, and while there are ways to get around it, it still happens.
When I’m coming out of a convention where I’ve met lots of incredible people and had stimulating discussions and laughed and cried and danced and explored the things that people really care about…there’s a drop. Knowing that it’s the onset of prolactin counteracting the continuous surge of epinephrine and dopamine that has been triggered in my head doesn’t change that it’s a drop. I can take steps to try and re-balance – for example, doing exercise to try and bring up my serotonin levels.
That’s the chemical side of things. I could also do something more mental – make a list of 100 things I love about my life, for example (try that sometime, it’s easier than you think). I could take the really easy route and go see one or the other of my grandsons (in an emergency, both) and bask in the unconditional love and admiration they have for me. That’s a better mood enhancer than any medication.
The problem is, none of that may work. In fact, it’s entirely possible that knowing why they work will make them less effective. From what I’ve found, the reverse isn’t true; knowing that it’s “just prolactin” doesn’t make me feel any better.
Which is where the stupid comes in. I know that having a big hot fudge sundae will likely boost my mood briefly (sugar high!) but then I will crash, likely even harder, and with the additional guilt of having consumed a huge number of calories (see, another aspect of the pain of knowledge: you can’t eat things guilt-free!). But I go through the drivethru anyway, either before or after the taco bell run because while it’s cheap and of dubious origin it just tastes so damn good.
On a larger level, I keep on going to these workshops and conventions and indulging in the brilliance of connection and passionate exchange of ideas, even knowing that afterwards there will be a crash. If “doing the same thing, expecting better results” is the equivalent of insanity, I’m pretty sure that “doing the same thing expecting the same bad results” is a pretty good definition of stupidity.
In fact, you may begin to apply those warning labels to yourself. Several years ago I was asked to be a moderator for a panel of experts on alternative relationship models. At the time my own relationship status had rather spectacularly disintegrated, and while I agreed to moderate, I really wanted to be wearing a t-shirt that read “Consider the Source.”
That tendency has apparently not lessened over the years. I recently made a new friend at an Open Space I facilitated, and she informed me a couple of weeks later that as she’d been talking to other mutual acquaintances she’d found that I apparently “…come with some pretty serious warning labels.” Without going into details, I not only can understand why my friends would feel that way, I also heartily concur. Plus, it’s fun to speculate on what those warning labels might say: WARNING: Highly Volatile. You must be this tall to go on this ride. Trespassers will be genuflected. Any Obfuscatory Verbage will Immediately be Eschewed. Contents are hot.
When I related that to another friend who’s known me through some very tumultuous times, he also concurred. However, he insisted that along with all the other warning labels, I include one more: “Worth the Risk.”
So this post is, for the most part, a warning to those of you who may be on your own quests to learn more about love. In my experience, it doesn’t make any more sense to you the more you learn. And you’re still prone to making the same mistakes – except you no longer have the excuse of “I didn’t know any better.” And so instead of feeling unfortunate, you feel stupid.
But really, there’s got to be a reason we’re wired that way. That we’re capable of going on that ride, again and again, whether for two minutes of a blues dance or for eighty years of a marriage, picking ourselves up and tilting at that same beautiful windmill.
Yeah. It’s worth the risk.