Thursday, October 02, 2008

Things from Skins

Warning, the following contains mixed metaphors. I started to proofread it, but decided I’m just going to post it as a jumbled mess. This is how it came out of my head.

I’m a pretty linear thinker. A leads to B leads to C. I like organic pathways, but the feedback loops always mess me up. I like to think discreet actions result in discreet consequences and that these progress in a relatively logical fashion. Part of this is science based, and part religious. I think Mormons are linear thinkers. Eternal progression, lists of principles, sequences of ordinances, steps in hierarchy. It’s a relatively logical and flowing religious ideology.

I don’t think life travels in a straight line. It probably does for some people, supermodels for instance, but not for most of us.

I think it’s a pretty common concept that you need the bad to appreciate the good. If your life was all great all the time, you wouldn’t actually appreciate it. Without the contrast, that life would be pretty meaningless. If your life was all bad all the time, you’d probably shoot yourself. Again, pretty meaningless. So to be maximally beneficial, life must be a mix of good and bad. This is what is most educational for us, and what results in the highest end level of happiness (despite the all great all the time plan’s lack of trouble, it only results in a mediocre level of contentment.)

Another common concept, among Mormons at least, is the pride cycle. You rely on God and you get blessings. Blessings make life good, you get proud and you forget God. Without God your life becomes bad and you’re humbled, turning again to God. The goal is to stop the cycle by not becoming proud. In a worst case scenario people stop the cycle by never becoming humble. Call it the pride cycle, call it hubris, in any case pride cometh before the fall.

I think life’s not that linear, but contains a lot of these cycles. Sometimes the cycles are our fault. We get proud, we make mistakes, we travel backward instead of forward. Sometimes the cycles aren’t our fault. Accidents happen, challenges arise, things change. And although I think we should TRY to live linearly, continually building and progressing, I think the cycles may be what helps us the most.

Back to Skins, my subject of the week. The kids of Skins are a fun loving, hard partying bunch. As you’d expect, get a bunch of angsty, dramatic kids, throw in a variety of drugs and alcohol and bad things happen. Sometimes catastrophically bad things. Sometimes the misery and woe they live through are clearly a consequence of their unwise actions. But sometimes it’s just bad luck. But a theme of the show is living through the pain. Picking yourself up when things go horribly wrong and starting over. Here’s a neat montage with the fitting music “It’s gotta get bad before it gets good”:

Contains some minor spoilers, a fair amount of dancing and one F-bomb (stop at 2:15 to avoid)

So bad things happen, whether due to our faults or happenstance. Instead of continually climbing up that stairway of life we tumble down, perhaps to the bottom, often bruising ourselves along with way. Now what? You’re back where you started. Everything’s been taken away from you. What do you decide to do?

The easy answer is to give up and stay where you are. It’s easy to get bitter and just sit there on the stairs. You tried already, so why try again? All you got was bruises. So you just sit there instead of climbing up the stairs again. Or worse you say Screw This and intentionally go down the stairs, slumming your way through life, intentionally living below what you know you’re capable.

Climbing those stairs a second time is hard, but it teaches us a lot. Repeating the climb can be either harder or easier than the first time, and I think both are valuable. It can be harder if you’ve become discouraged or bitter or fragile. But overcoming these new internal challenges can teach you even more than when you first climbed the stairs. Once you’ve faced these internal challenges the climb becomes easier. You’ve done this before, so you have experience to help you on your assent.

Over the course of the show the kids of Skins almost all tumble down the stairs. They’re proud, unlucky or both and wind up falling. Often they end up losing everything they cared about, and are forced to reevaluate most everything about their life. But by helping each other, they decide to start rebuilding, step by step. I’m not saying this was a groundbreaking show or a philosophical masterpiece, but it made me look at challenges differently.

Although I’ve traditionally thought of these cycles concerning spiritual progression, I saw in Skins that it could apply to other areas as well. We can be at a certain emotional level, only to plummet to an earlier emotional period, and have to build our maturity back up. We can operate at a certain intellectual level, only to collapse to a lower level due to emotional or motivational problems. One that I hadn’t considered before was social progression. I’ve never thought much about social progression, but it’s something we all do. We built the quantity and quality of our friends and acquaintances. And through our actions and happenstance, what we’ve built can collapse. When this happens, we have to start all over, rebuilding our network step by step. I’d never thought about this, and have certainly missed opportunities to do this, instead just sitting on the stairs, socially stagnant. This post has gone on far too long so I’ll delve into this more later.

Some more spoilers, swearing and things that won't make sense out of context

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