Friday, January 06, 2012

Compartmentalization versus Integration

Something has been plaguing me these last few months. Not in a really obnoxious way, but there all the same. A binary that is asking for judgement.

Of course, this happens to me all the time. I do really want to live well, to live (dare I say) right in the world. And this requires constant re-assessment of the values I choose to live by.

On NPR a few months back, a fella was being interviewed about the development of our human species. Things that make us unique, above the other animals. And one of those features was our ability to compartmentalize.

Now I've spent most of my life trying to understand integration. And that path led me in some frustrating (albeit enlightening) directions. For many years, I really wanted all to be centralized in my life. I sought for my values to be enacted at work, in play, with friends AND family. This meant some interesting things like choosing to work with clients we aligned with (and turning down others from time to time), choosing to live in particular areas (and not others), shop certain places, you get the idea.

But I realized a few things along the way:

  • Not all values are right for all situations. And most of life is nuanced.
  • Living by MY values all the time is very isolating and perhaps even very egocentric. It assumes that my values (no matter where they came from) are inherently RIGHT all the time.
  • It pumped my ego and made me feel as though I was living right.
  • It's just an impossibility. And I felt like a failure an awful lot.

But to say that compartmentalization is a higher virtue, well, that feels awkward to me. Yet it also feels right. I wonder if the cognitive dissonance is actually good for the soul. It complicates things. I guess it's what you do with these complexities that answers whether compartmentalization or integration are more virtuous.

And of course, they probably both are. But if they both are, then we essentially must nest compartmentalization into a greater integration, no?

1 comment:

Jon said...

I think you're stumbling on to something very important. And that is the reality of looking at your world involves give-and-take, and the ability to adapt situation to situation. Some people are cut out for living in the world ruthlessly according to their values. Those values may be those of the dictator like Gaddafi and Hitler, or of saints like Jesus and Francis. A less extreme example would be of the minimalists like Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

But my own teacher stresses that the ability to adapt is the most important thing. Living by an inflexible set of rules is to be trapped. Even for instance a rule that in almost all circumstances is wise, like do not kill, can become a trap when you are faced with the need to defend your own life with that of your loved ones.

Even if your principle lbecomes something like do what is appropriate (and good if possible), it provides guidance, but with perhaps a greater freedom of adaptability. It would be an example of "larger integration".