Robert (gurdonark) wrote,


The wizards at my law school, schooled in the black arts, taught me that there's one cardinal rule of cross-examination. Never ask a question to which you don't know the answer. I utilize a variation of that rule instead, and will sometimes ask a question to which I don't know the answer. This occurs in that rare situation in which either answer benefits my case.

Sometimes in life and on LiveJournal (and I've begun to decide that LiveJournal is part of life, and not a thing apart), I find myself reading a simple declaratory sentence and wanting to ask the worst of open-ended cross examination questions. I want to ask "Why?". The question "why" is a problem in a cross-examination, in which the examiner wishes to rein in the examinee so that only information which harms the adversary gets into evidence. The reason that "why" is a problem is that there's always a reason. The reason may be insufficient (legally, morally, what have you), but there is always a reason. If the reason sounds good to the judge or jury, one regrets asking "why". It's much better to stick to tried and true questions, like "this IS your signature on this letter, isn't it?"

Folks get trapped in lives they profess to despise, yet there's always a reason why the trap is inescapable. Sometimes the reason
is a unassailable--"I have a medical condition, and it restricts me in this way". But often, free choices are presented as unavoidable destiny. "I can't", "I mustn't", and "I should".

I'm a huge believer in personal responsibility. I advocate making and keeping commitments. I attach what I call a sanctity to acting with integrity with one's promises. But so often, I find that people feel trapped in things not related to their vows or contracts. Some folks construct elaborate barricades around themselves, which trap them in one way of thinking or doing.

Life is not cross-examination. I don't have to worry about asking "Why don't you move?" or "If you hate this job, why don't you retrain to find another?". Only decorum (and avoiding sounding like a cross-examiner, which is amusing, because 'why' in not a big part of cross-examination) need restrain me from these questions.
But the question "why" frequently does not get a meaningful answer.
Each person has a reason "why", but the reason often is a kind of placeholder. The answer to "why" is often literally "I don't want to spend the energy and take the risk of change". But the answer given is often a laundry list of pragmatic reasons why the person questioned's life cannot work out as desired.

I'm all fine with the notions of destiny and fate, whatever they mean. Yet, sometimes I doubt that one is fated to hold this particular job instead of that one; that one is fated to lack the energy to improve one's situation; or that one is inherently limited by the sheer drag-downedness of all those around one. I'm not belittling very real challenges such as poverty, abusive relatives, or personal illness. But so often I see people who cling to their lives by choice, and then blame it on the Fates. I think that the Fates frequently have better threads to snip than most of the middle class traps that people put themselves into.

I'm not really a tactful person. I try to make up for my relative lack of tact by trying to say tactless things with tactful phrasing. I find myself lately adding to the mild indentations on my tongue, restraining myself from asking "why".

But I could turn this question upon myself. What free choices do I erroneously regard an inescapable destinies? Why am I this way?
What choices do I need to make, and why? What things could I do, that I should do, that I'm not doing for silly but detailed reasons?

I always like a saying from my childhood, "a person's gotta do what a person's gotta do". This saying seems to me to say that no matter the societal conventions, one must do the things one is impelled to do. Lately, I try to stretch and do hobby things I've been "meaning to do", but for which I "never had the time". But I feel that I've got a lot of bigger choices to make in life, and
I've got to stop living as if I'm prevented from having choices.

I used to have a recurring dream. The visuals and the story were different. The visual was that I was trapped on the edge of a long-playing record, which spun round and round. The story was that I was in a Latin American dictatorship in which I was inevitably going to fall out of favor and be killed. The visual of this was that a beam would shoot out from the center of the record, like some video game. It would be angled so that the record would spin me into the beam, and I would die. Those dreams were frightening in their raw despair, though they sound amusing now. The plot of the dream would carry on, and inevitably my beam would come to kill me.
I'd awake just before it hit.

But in my real life, I've chosen so much of who I am and what I have to do and be. I make my choices every day. The sloth and weariness I sometimes feel amount to choices as well,though they don't feel like choices. I want to see life more as a series of chocies in a ViewMaster, and I must merely click onto the picture I want, and less as inevitable destiny, beaming across a long-playing disk.
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