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Mar 14, 2022

Compartmentalizing and its discontents

In one part of my life, a horrendous war destroys cities I know and love. In another part, we need to organize our requests for faculty hires to start in the fall of 2023. In yet another part, I am responding to a paper by a British philosopher who examines Dostoyevsky and the concept of vulnerability. The only way to do it is to erect walls dividing all these and other concerns. One develops some sort of separate personalities to think about these things, and by necessity they must be semi-independent. If you go too far with this, you end up with a dissociative disorder. However, going there just a bit helps to maintain functionality in different spheres of one’s life. This is how we maintain the semi-separate spheres of work life, parenthood, civic engagement, or an involved hobby, etc.

You may move down the road of compartmentalization one step further, when one of the spheres causes a lot of stress. This means erecting fences just a bit higher, keeping the different spheres more separate. This is because you don’t want the sick part of yourself to contaminate the relatively healthy ones. It is a bit like an internal quarantine for the part of your soul that is aching.

I am sure many of us go through this experience sometime in our lives. Your mother dies, and yet you need to do your taxes. You are going through a divorce, and yet grades are due. You almost died in car accident, and there is a meting to attend. The chasm between the profound and the mundane never feels natural or pleasant. It always feels like a little betrayal, of is you denigrate the profound by paying attention to the mundane. Yet there is no other way, because the mundane deserves our attention. That is where life happens, where other people depend on us. We all must compartmentalize sometimes.

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