07 July 2013

Deficit Models

I’ve been thinking about the deficit model of life that too many people seem to express in conversation.  The deficit model of life asserts that my immediate (usually) troublesome state, my present misery, defines the nature of my entire existence. I am lonely now: I am always lonely! I’m not having fun now: I never have any fun! Of course, the opposite is also true: the present happiness is permanent and has always been so, but in my experience one3 is not as apt to use the deficit model in times of contentment as in times of misery and depression. Of course, I know intellectually that the deficit model is a false one and does not, in fact, prove true, but sometimes perhaps it is easier to hold to this view than to adopt another and more positive perspective. The deficit model allows one to believe the present is the future and holding onto it absolves oneself of an historical sense and therefore, the need for present action. Things will always be this way: why bother? Poor, poor pitiful me!!

I occasionally suffer from the deficit model. When I was not the age I am now I used to run miles and miles with great pleasure, and now when I go out to run I begin the experience tired and end it exhausted. I walk a great deal. I can’t run many miles: I can’t run at all. Today I can’t run well. I’ll never run again.

So I was running today (at least, I was attempting to run today) and I was suffering from the effort. I can’t run at all! When suddenly on the radio came the song “Get Up And Go.” I’ve spoken of this composition before, but today it was this verse that struck me:

When I was young my slippers were red,
I could kick up my heels right over my head.
When I was older my slippers were blue,
But still I could dance the whole night thru.
Now I am older my slippers are black,
I huff to the store and I puff my way back.
But never you laugh; I don't mind at all,
I'd rather be huffing than not puff at all.

And I thought of the deficit model of life. I can define myself by the puffing I experience as I try to runalas, I used to be such a strong runner and now I’m not a runner at allor I can enjoy just puffing along at whatever pace I set. After all, I’d rather be huffing than not puff at all!

In a similar vein, for years during stressful times I have turned with thought and ear to Sydney Carter’s hymn-like song, “All Shall Be Well Again.” The lyric derives from the words of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century anchoress and mystic. I have always taken great comfort from her counsel:

All shall be well I’m telling you
Let the winter come and go
All shall be well again, I know.

I recall once singing that song to a student who was about to undergo a delicate brain surgery to try to control his severe epilepsy. More recently I sent the song to my child who was suffering a broken heart. In both cases, I hoped that the words served some comfort. We all need a little comfort sometimes.

A story was told: The wise King Solomon owned a ring on which he had engraved the words “This too shall pass.” Whenever events turned against him and he suffered in defeat and depression, he would look at the ring and read, “This too shall pass,” and he was comforted. And when fortune appeared favorable to he and his kingdom, then also would he look at the ring: “This too shall pass,” and he was comforted. Solomon’s ring reminded him of the ephemeral and temporary nature of life. He was wise to attend to the ring because from it he would know to ever be prepared for a turn of events. He was always expectantly ready, though he must not have been always pleased as things unfolded.

And again: In Waiting for Godot Vladimir says, “The tears of the world are a constant quantity.” When one stops her weeping, then somewhere another begins to cry. Vladimir suggests that the level of sorrow neither increases nor decreases: though it may variously occupy different sites, the degree of sorrow in the world stays constant. Nevertheless, Godot expresses some Solomonic wisdom: if the tears of the world are a constant quantity, then this difficulty for me, too, shall pass. I am comforted.

No, this deficit model won’t hold: the world is too random and unpredictable. We cannot prepare for the consequences of consequences of consequences, said Isaiah Berlin. It is phenomenal how little we actually control of our lives; it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves. We think we make sense of it but in fact the constructed order is a fiction created by careful selection, imposed patterns, and forced connection. We can read our lives as miserable or wonderful—neither is the truth. And I guess I’d always rather be huffing than not puff at all.


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