Thursday, May 3, 2018

Broad and shallow vs. deep and narrow

So like, I have a habit of looking at the ground instead of up and around when I'm walking somewhere.

When I was a little kid I'd get "look where you're going!" as a pretty regular scold, and even though I understood what was meant by that, I also kinda disagreed with it in principle. I was looking where I was going. I was looking at the ground and where I was stepping.

This morning I was walking to work and the sun was really bright in the direction I had to walk, so I was looking pretty exclusively at the ground and only looking up and around when it was necessary for safety. I got to thinking whether looking at the ground a lot is a symptom of light sensitivity or if it's a combination of issues. I kinda lean toward the latter.

It's not WRONG to tell someone they should look around them, absorb the surroundings, give themselves a chance to see something other than what's under their feet. You're not WRONG if you tell someone there's worthwhile stuff to see and value in absorbing the big picture. But here's the thing. Looking at the ground isn't necessarily the limiting, narrow focus it can be made out to be.

When I was a kid, I also had a funny little reputation for always finding money on the ground. It was almost spun like I had some special luck to magically find coins and small dollar bills, or like I had a particular eye for it or something. Well, no. That's where I was looking. And if there's a shiny thing there, you see it if you're looking there more often than other people are.

Okay, so broadening that concept to life philosophy.

I fall pretty extremely in the "narrow and deep" category of how I live my life. And most people seem to prefer (and praise as superior) the "broad and shallow" category.

In other words, I tend to do a few things very thoroughly, instead of a bunch of things in a more superficial way.

Neither is better.

It's just that some philosophies match better with certain personalities.

I've been criticized before for the detail I put into my special interests, with people suggesting my book reviews are too detailed or I spend "too much" energy on things I like--INSTEAD OF choosing to do more things. It's presented as if doing MORE things would always be better, ignoring that the experience of doing many things necessarily means you sacrifice the opportunity to do any of those things thoroughly.

Let's put it in terms of musical instruments. Some people can play seven instruments passably. Some people only play one, but do it masterfully. Is it "better" to be able to pick up any of several instruments and kinda schlep your way through a song, or is it "better" to be able to play more advanced music with more polish?

There isn't a right answer here. There certainly is value in being so versatile--maybe having enough knowledge of the trumpet to fake your way through a band piece even if you usually specialize in piano, or maybe knowing just enough to be able to write for the instrument. But I really don't think anyone would go up to a master violinist and say "you know, because of all the time you wasted mastering violin, you denied yourself the opportunity to know what it's like to play an instrument from every instrumental family."

When you focus only on the value of experiencing a large quantity of things, you actually do miss what it can be like to escalate an interest, to enjoy it on another level, to experience it to a DEGREE that people can't if they don't put the time in. Someone who's lived in a city for 20 years has a completely different understanding of it than someone who vacationed there and did the tourist things. I'm really kinda tired of the judgment from people who think you need to "see the world" by going everywhere at the expense of really knowing that town. Think there just can't be anything worthwhile to the experience of putting down those roots? Well, you haven't tried it, so what do you know about it? Who are you to say that experience must be defined in terms of what it lacks instead of what it includes?

The term "broad" versus the term "narrow" feels weighted; you'd usually see "narrow" perspectives as a bad thing. But when you hold it up next to the opposite comparison--"shallow" versus "deep"--you'll see how it balances out. In life, you have a limited amount of time and resources. You cannot be both broad and deep. You cannot dig very deep holes if it's more important to you to dig a lot of them. If you choose to go deep, you are committing to limited geography. If you choose to go broad, you are committing to a reasonable limit for how far you'll dig.

I'm seeing things in soil layers you don't even know about. It's okay with me that you're digging holes in places I'll never explore. We want different things. I choose the holes to be deep and few in number, and I do not think that makes me better than you.

Just please stop acting like your embracing of the reverse DOES make you better than me.

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