“Confessions of an Educator” columnist Chris Margolin implores you to be the duck and expand your worldview.
“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everybody I’ve ever known.” —Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters
In J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield often wonders where all the ducks in Central Park go during the winter. He’s told by a cab driver that the ducks aren’t important, but it’s the fish he should be concerned about, because the fish get frozen in place and their bodies feed off of themselves and suck in certain nutrients during that time in order to stay alive while they’re unable to move. I think the cabbie had it right.
No matter the season, we, as people, are the fish. We are frozen in place and feed only off of what comes in direct contact with us or what we’ve already stored inside of us. It’s a fantastic metaphor for Holden, as well as people in general, as we are so trapped inside our heads that we are unable to search for any new meaning to anything—at least not until, in Holden’s case, his kid sister, Phoebe, knocks some sense into him. But what is our Phoebe?
Chuck Palahniuk tells us that we are the “combined effort of everybody [we]’ve ever known.” And he’s right, but is that really a good thing? “All we’ve known” is deceiving. Too many people are unwilling to know anything else. I watch my students suffer from this problem on a daily basis. They know everything they care to know already, so why should they learn anything new? Why should they read a book, or write a research essay, or listen to a lecture, or discuss a poem or passage, or anything that deals with new knowledge? Some of them are barely fish—barely even feeding off of that which they come in direct contact.
I’m guilty of this as well. I spent—probably still do spend—a good portion of my life being stubborn and unwilling to open myself up to new things. I enjoyed living in my little box and not progressing much beyond what I already knew. But, at some point, that gets old. I realized that there was a whole world out there that I needed to understand and the only way to do that is by exploring. By actually seeing what the world has to offer and taking advantage of the fact that we are constantly learning while breathing in our everyday realities. We are that which we’ve known. It’s not like I did anything earth-shattering, but even taking a few steps toward a better connection with that which surrounds me is a step in the right direction.
So, why can’t we be more like the ducks? Why can’t we disappear for a season, travel toward new understanding, and get a new perspective on life? If we are the combined efforts of all we’ve known, then we need to know a lot more than we already do, because, frankly, we know very little about a very tiny fragment of the world around us and that fragment grows smaller each day we’re unwilling to disappear for a season.
Do yourself a favor, learn something new. Experience new people, new ideas, new books, poems, films, states, cities, countries. Do anything and everything you can to widen your knowledge about anything and everything. In essence, be the duck and not the fish.