Spiritedness and docility

by Gray2 min read23rd Apr 20113 comments

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Just a brief inquiry, I've been thinking about myself, and what many people here talk about akrasia and "not getting crap done", and one of the vectors that this can be thought of is in terms of what I would call spiritedness versus docility.  At least this is how I would describe it, maybe you guys know of a better approach.

I would call these different ends of a continuum, like hot and cold: the more spirited you are, the less docile; and the more docile you are, the less spirited.  I suspect that many of those who come here are often on the docile end of the spectrum, and this has everything to do with the sort of society we live in.  A spirited/highly energetic person just doesn't work that well in our kind of society where standing in one place, waiting our turn, reading directions, and so on, are standard staples of life.

Now being docile sounds bad, but the alternative is a lot of frustration--being irritable, impatient, easily angered and annoyed by those around you; at least, this is the way I see it.  But I was thinking in terms of what I would call "rational spiritedness", because this is the condition under which I think best.  That is, rather than passively waiting for the answers, but actively seeking them.  There was a post a little while ago about what was called "learned blankness", and I think this is very close to what I call docility.  For the spirited person, inquiry is naturally active, physical, and empirical.

I did an experiment the other day when I was in the park walking, and as I was walking I forced myself to constantly probe the environment around me, trying to discover as much I could.  I'm talking about very basic things, the way a naturalist would, like what is the structure of the leaves on the grass (grass grows in bundles).  I noticed, and then recalled, that this park was hit by a tornado last year, and I could see which trees are newly planted, and which are still there from the tornado.  I even noticed the pattern in the trees, the way the old trees had fewer branches on one side, which indicated in which direction the wind blew in from.  There were still some old stakes in the ground which were pointed in the same angle.  But the idea wasn't to "learn about any particular thing" but to "learn about whatever I could around me".

But the impressive thing is that this "state of mind" that I somehow struck caused me to learn things, and even see the world around me in a way I never did before.  I guess I'm a natural introvert, and I've walked this park many times before, and never noticed any of these details.  My walks are usually spent inside my head, thinking about logical arguments, or what not.  It never occurred to me to use my rationality to learn things about the world around me, to become a sort of empirical sleuth (Sherlock Holmes is certainly my inspiration here).

It's this idea of spiritedness that has caught my attention though, that day when I was walking at the park, I think I managed to become more spirited than I usually am.  It helped that I was virtually alone at the park (it's a really small park, and still cold), but this spiritedness caused me to walk off the trail many times just to go look at something from a different angle, or to see something up close, or to count the number of something.  This was all pretty easy stuff.  There was one other guy there, and I hate to say that I felt a little ashamed at what I was doing everytime I saw him.  Seeing another person seems to be an instant return to docility.  Maybe this is why the best thinkers work alone.

Anyway, I thought this was interesting, and shared with the class. :)

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3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:19 AM
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If you feel uncomfortable being curious and investigative around other people, you can actually feel less weird by seeing how weird you can act, imagining it from their perspective. For instance, lie down flat on your stomach and stare at a single blade of grass. Take a picture with your cell phone. To push it a bit further, give them a big friendly greeting with a smile that's just a little too wide. It's very fun (and stress relieving) to play the role of mad scientist.

You've (re)invented (something similar to) Type A and Type B personality theory.

Form the sound of it, I'm probably a lot more spirited than most people here. Useful and explains a lot.