Evolution Pollution

July 11, 2008

Isn’t it frustrating when people assume you’re exactly the same person you were yesterday, last year, or twenty years ago? Maybe you don’t care, but I do. Last year I loved Pina Coladas and baby powder, now I’m sick of them. I was trying to channel my creativity into an extremely narrow focus and a business suit. Now I’m spewing it out like an open fire hydrant. Last year my personal definition of happy was different. If I can’t change and grow over time, either in my own mind or in yours, just put me out of my misery. If you’ve been following me here, you know my evolution is a combination of slow growth, epiphanies, cart-hopping, and long-term battles with southern charm school rules and childhood demons.

Years ago I wrote, The Evolution of Darwin’s Theory, a paper for the grad-level history of science course I took as a college senior. I was fascinated by Darwin’s decision to hold back on sharing his theories and conclusions regarding evolution for the sake of religion, society, family, and his own peace of mind. I hung onto that paper for years in one faded folder or another, and then incorporated it into my novel, Aberrations. Darwin’s dilemma, which is highlighted in this week’s edition of Newsweek, speaks to the universal conflict of deciding when and where to share the truth. According to Newsweek journalist Malcolm Jones, “as delighted as he was with his discovery, Darwin was equally horrified, because he understood the consequences of his theory. Mankind was no longer the culmination of life but merely part of it; creation was mechanistic and purposeless. In a letter to a fellow scientist, Darwin wrote that confiding his theory was ‘like confessing a murder.’ It’s no wonder that instead of rushing to publish his theory, he sat on it—for 20 years.”

Was Darwin cowardly or brilliant to hold back information that would rock his world? Did he owe his research to society? Would science be twenty years farther ahead today if he’d published sooner? Regardless of the reason, is sitting on the truth a form of lying? In some cases, it certainly is, but the complexity of life sometimes causes us to hold back out of love, and/or our own weakness and fear of facing the truth. When is it right to come forward? When is it okay to lie? And speaking of evolution, how do we know when those we seek to protect have evolved enough to finally handle the truth we’re hiding. At what point do they deserve honesty? When does our hoarding of it become an insult? Are we playing God? These are some of the questions addressed in Aberrations and that I’m still stewing over even after writing more than 65,000 words around it.

There are times and situations when, with good intentions, we reserve the truth to protect those we love. But as time goes by we’re all evolving, which often leads to a couple of scenarios. The first is that the person we’re trying to protect has evolved, but we haven’t. They're ripe for the truth but we still don’t want to give it up. We’ve somehow moved from a place of protecting them to a place of protecting ourselves. Inevitably, once the truth comes out, although ready to hear it, the person on the receiving end feels insulted that we ever thought they couldn’t handle it. The second scenario is that we’ve evolved into the braver state of not wanting anything between us and the world. However, the world’s still not ready. In these situations, those most emotionally fit survive, I suppose.

If we could simply evolve together in lock step, life would be a breeze. Maybe we’d all get over feeling personally slighted by the truth. Maybe we’d understand the motivations of others and ourselves. But our individual evolution will always pollute communication and relationships. There’s no going green on this one. The cultural and biological dilemma of multifaceted emotional, intellectual, and creative development adds complexity that can crush marriages, parent-child relationships, and who knows what else. We are all just apes, cavemen, monkeys, and men—struggling for understanding.

When we share the truth too early, we run the risk of slowing down evolution rather than speeding it up. Maybe the reaction means death to a relationship with solid roots and a vast capacity for growth, whereas allowing time for personal evolution paves the way for a profound burst at that enlightening moment when the truth is finally shared. Could the recipient finally be ready to understand complexity and emotional depth that would have stunted their growth had you dumped it on them sooner? Maybe knowing when and where to share the truth is part of how we survive.

I’m not naïve. I realize there are some bad dudes in this world. These people hoard every single truth they can just to get what they want. But in all honestly, I believe I’ve only come across one downright bad soul in my forty plus years. The rest who have lied or held back truth from me weren’t bad seed. We’re all flawed. We’re all evolving at our own haphazard pace, trying to figure out how to survive in an imperfect world. I’m trying to forgive them and hoping they're busy forgiving me. I’m not sure if I'm an ape, monkey, or man right now but as long as I keep moving and trying to understand the situation, I think I’ll survive.

Bear with me, my theories are evolving.

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