Tuesday, August 21, 2007

If You Had To Choose

If you had to choose between writing something thought provoking and writing something profound, which would you choose?

I'm tempted to say that anything which is profound is thought provoking. But saying that breaks the rule because we have been asked to pretend the two can be separated and do not overlap.

Well, then, I know when I was much younger I would have chosen to write something profound. Among other things, it can be good mental discipline to try to write something that's profound. You end up questioning every one of your assumptions in an effort to dig deeper and deeper into the subject. You become like a child who asks, "Why?", "But why?", in response to every answer you come up with.

All that digging might not make you an entirely profound person -- you can still be someone with surprisingly shallow feelings, tastes and inclinations -- but it certainly helps to make whatever you write profound. I know that's true, because I married my first wife solely for her looks the very same year I was routinely getting compliments back from my professors along the lines of, "This is among the most profound papers -- published or unpublished -- I have ever read on the Bhagavad Gita. I realize in the cosmic scheme of things that does not matter. But in a warm, earthly way, I just wanted you to know."

That professor was right, of course. In the cosmic scheme of things, the reward -- in this case, the pride -- we might take in writing something profound does not matter, except perhaps in so far as that reward or pride becomes a burden and a hindrance. Instead, what we do, we should do true to ourselves. And what is true to ourselves can change.

Sometime in my 40's -- most likely in my late 40's -- I began feeling a need to give back to my community something in gratitude for all the good things my community had given me.

Such a feeling is sometimes confused for selflessness, but it is not selfless. I fully wanted to use my own unique talents and skills -- that is, to use my self -- to give back to my community. Nor had I any desire to give back to my community in a way that was not true to myself. I suppose that around the same time in my life, my answer changed to the question, "If you had to choose between writing something that was thought provoking, and writing something that was profound, which would you choose?"

Today, I would choose thought provoking. But I think for you to understand why, you must recall the silly rule we began with: Namely, that we should pretend a writing cannot be both profound and thought provoking at the same time, and that therefore we must choose one or the other. If you go by that rule, then it's reasonable to ask, "Which is better for people?" The way I see it, it's better for people to read something that provokes them to think, than it is for them to read something that is merely profound.

For one thing, it is more fun to think about something than it is to deeply understand something. Thinking is like traveling: The joy lies in the unexpected discovery. While understanding something is like staying home. The happiness is more akin to comfort than joy. Only homebodies would give up thinking about new things for deeply knowing something.

For another thing, thinking keeps the mind fresh and alert. It's good exercise for the brain and prevents its deterioration. But I've seen even quite profound people deteriorate rapidly in their mental capabilities when they stopped seeing things in new and interesting ways.

Last, when thinking becomes a habit, the politicians, preachers, pundits, and advertisers are much less able to manipulate us to suit their own agendas. So, there too, you are giving something back to your community when you provoke people to think.

There you have it. My answer to the absolutely most pressing question of our time. When I was younger, I would have easily chosen "profound". That was being true to myself yesterday. But today, things have changed -- I've changed. And I feel I could best be true to myself by writing something thought provoking.

Yet, how would you answer the question?

"If you had to choose between either writing something thought provoking or writing something profound, which would you choose?"


Braveheart ( Ela) said...

I would choose profound, in case this is the last chance to write.

David Rochester said...

You know, I'd have to say that I'd choose neither, but I think that's because I'm wary of gauging any effect of my writing on the audience, or judging its quality in any sense. I'd choose to write something authentic, and if it happened to be profound or thought-provoking, then hurrah.

The question also presumes, to some extent, that a writer can set out to produce something thought-provoking or profound . . . and since some of the worst writing I've ever seen had that kind of deliberate intent, I'd rather just say whatever is on my mind and let it have its own life in the world. I tend to feel pretty strongly that the purpose of my writing isn't really up to me.

I suppose that ignoring the validity of the question isn't really a fair way to answer the question, but that's just the sort of irritating person I tend to be.

Braveheart ( Ela) said...

Profound or thoght provoking, both are authentic.
It would be nice if the answer to the question was time framed, taking into consideration 'right at this moment'.
Right at this moment I would choose to write profound because I want to leave something deep and meaningful about me, if there was a chance someone will read in the future, found even by a chance.

I think of the fact that, after death people tend to come up with factual but fictional interpretation of a person, so thought provoking makes more room for them to come up with something displeasing.

Today, this is my opinion.

Webs said...

Off topic, but David you sound like a Unitarian there. Which is a joke only most Unitarians would get. Which is oddly enough how most Unitarian jokes are...

Back to the topic at hand; even though I don't write many thought provoking posts on my blog I would tend to say thought provoking is more important. It gets us to think about issues and attempt to solve problems. But also, and more important, it gets us to create dialog on issues where we would normally have none.

Write a thought provoking sentence and speak it to a fundi, and watch them think on the issue. Some may not pay attention, but every once in awhile you get one that really thinks. And this gets them to research. And before you know it you set off a little truth seeking virus in their head. And now they see the world in a truly different way.

I guess you don't even have to be speaking to a fundi to have that effect huh?

Anyways, I would definitely say Paul's post was a thought provoking one...

Paul said...

Hi David! Of course, you're right. In the real world, it's wiser to choose to write something authentic than to attempt to write something that's thought provoking or profound.

Hi Braveheart! It's interesting that you answer would depend so much on how you feel at the moment. I hadn't thought of that myself.

Hi Webs! Sometimes it is indeed possible to get a Fundie to think. Not always though. I think it pretty much depends on the Fundie.

Mahendra said...

Nice post, Paul!

My blog title does the talking on my behalf! :-)

An Unquiet Mind is always (trying to be) thinking and thought provoking, even though it may not always be profound!