Why We Do Better

This is fine

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This is one of my favorite comics, and there are two ways to interpret it: the fool reading and the monk reading.

The fool reading sees Mr. Dog ignorant or stubborn in the face of obvious catastrophe. Dog is each of us: happily, stupidly plodding deeper into the jungle despite every sign that we should turn back.

It’s Jeb! continuing his campaign after Please Clap. It’s Wile E. Coyote busily cycling his legs even though the cliff ended meters back. It’s staying at the shitty job or with the shitty person long after they’ve revealed their toxicity.

This is a valid and vital lesson, though like the Rubin vase, a second impression emerges from its contours.

This interpretation is best explained by an anecdote told by Josh Waitzkin about playing in the rain with his son:

“Parents have this language around weather being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Whenever it’s raining you hear ‘it’s bad weather, we can’t go out,’ or ‘it’s good weather, we can go out.’ So that means we’re externally reliant on conditions being good in order to have a good time. So [my son] Jack and I never miss a single storm. I don’t think we’ve missed a single storm, rain or snow, going outside and romping in it. We developed this language around how beautiful it was, so now whenever it’s a rainy day Jack says ‘look Dada, it’s such a beautiful rainy day.’ ”

From birth, we are taught to label things as good or bad – our emotions, our physical sensations, our successes and failures. In short order, we learn to dread all that we call ‘bad’ and flee from its presence.

The truth, as Waitzkin points out, is that much richness in life comes from sitting in discomfort. In doing so, we gain mastery over ourselves. We hear depth and beauty when before we heard noise. Both courage and wit grow well in this soil.

The truth is, all that we call genius comes down to being able to sit in the fire and say, “this is fine.”

That is the monk reading.

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