Monday, December 2, 2013

Five Roles

For several years I've tried to occupy five roles simultaneously, with mixed results. Priorities have shifted, along with the effort required to maintain them and the dynamics of synergies and conflicts between them. Recently I crossed a major threshold in juggling my roles, which in retrospect was inevitable, and may also be inevitable for like-minded people who have chosen similar ones.

The first role I've occupied is as a husband and supportive member of a small community that includes my family and friends. In my second role, I've been a citizen of the United States, working to make a decent living as defined by my culture, with the hope of eventually retiring comfortably. In the third role, I've been an aspiring artist, creating artificial experiences that might inspire, entertain, and educate others as they did for me. My fourth role has been as a curious researcher, exploring and sharing how and why the future might unfold for our species over the near and distant future. Finally, in the fifth role, I've tried to become a more responsible citizen of Earth.

The selection of these roles is understandable, given my personality. Using the Big Five model, I am an introvert, explaining why I'm comfortable with very few people and why I'm drawn to the art and professions that involve mostly solitary activity. High agreeableness explains why I typically stick to my culture's dominant script, which corresponds in general to the expectations of the people around me. Strong conscientiousness and openness underlie my search for meaning and understanding of how the world works so that, when a goal is set, the supporting actions can be derived and followed. I also have high neuroticism, which motivates me to find and solve problems, and minimize harm resulting from anything I do (or anyone else does) through acceptance of responsibility and a pursuit of knowledge that can improve the chances of success.

I've shared in much of my writing how I've found the fifth role of responsible Earth citizen problematic, especially in light of the results of my research into variables affecting our future. In a nutshell, it almost directly opposes my second role as a citizen of my culture and the goals it prescribes. As evidence has mounted that we may all be doomed no matter what we do, the advantages of following my culture's lead have become harder and harder to see. This made my third role as an artist a lot more attractive as a replacement, even though it almost certainly meant much less short-term income.

Until today, the most recent real-world manifestation of my second role was a job as (effectively) a test engineer, which coincidentally benefited from the other aspects of my personality – at least for a while. My discomfort with the potential for hidden problems, when indulged, is both an advantage and a curse. The advantage is that my heightened sensitivity leads me to problems others wouldn't think of finding. The curse is that I start finding those problems everywhere. Each of us seems to have a limit to how much of that kind of knowledge we can handle, or choose to handle, likely related to the openness personality dimension. My tolerance seems to be higher than most, which sometimes gets me into trouble if I'm not judicious about how I share the "excess," either literally or as a result of being too obvious in my pursuit of it (which in a perverse way can be perceived as "waste"). As I approached my own limit over the course of the last few months, with the fate of the world revealed in news and research overshadowing and adding to my direct experience, it became virtually impossible to do anything but double down and deal with it, all of it. I realized that for the world to become healthier, many of the assumptions behind our physical and social infrastructure would need to change radically, and very soon, making almost all of the things we focused on, in my work and around the world, necessarily obsolete. As a result I became less careful with maintaining perception, to say the least. The consequences were predictable.

My writing had served as a way to deal with both my angst and urge to troubleshoot, before and during that period. Through music, I was also able to access some deep feelings, many – thankfully – positive, a revelation from my subconscious that I could share more than just soul-crushing problems, or numb my pain with the total fantasy painted by TV and movies. I grasped at the possibility that I could transition into a healthier set of roles, using this one to earn enough money to pay off debts and maintain a more basic standard of living as I plotted a course toward more responsible living that didn't sacrifice health and happiness. I did so knowing that my chances were slim, even if we weren't facing a high probability of death by radiation poisoning, climate change, or a horrific combination of both.

I'm still grasping that possibility, and committed now to testing it. Though I'm sure to take some detours along the way as necessity dictates, the future – as I used to say about relationships – is going to be as good as I can make it, and better than it might have been.

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