Do you know what dry rot is? Have you ever seen old wood that looks like wood but is hollow because there is no pith left? Have you ever lifted what seemed to be a piece of cloth but it crumbled into a dry powder in your hands? Have you ever found an old box of cards exposed to dampness and when you tried to read them they would fall apart in fragile disarray? It is a condition of decay. It looks okay until one tries to use it in a useful way. Suffering from dry rot, it is not up to the task. It is a ghost, an ash of its creation.
Humans are susceptible to the same decay.
We work from day to day surviving the constant pressure that wears us down until one day we are in dry rot. We look human; we look functional; we feel we are the substance of our birth. But we are a ghost who breathes, eats, pontificates, and pretends to be valuable. We are just dry rot. Called to task, we crumble into uselessness.
This is too bad. Just as in material things, there are defenses to prevent dry rot in ourselves. Just as we seek to prevent rust in our tools; just as we maintain our houses; just as we maintain functionality in our vehicles; just as we maintain static rituals that keep order in our lives – we can introduce defenses that keep our lives rich and full and pliable against the vagaries of living. We can avoid dry rot to our last day.
One way is to keep the mind flexible. Deliberately pursue new ideas that test your opinions. Deliberately allow yourself to be confronted by social progress. Deliberately investigate the value of lifelong beliefs. Deliberately pursue new physical experiences and challenges. Dry rot cannot accumulate in the presence of newness.
Another avenue is to pursue new information as literally as you pursue physical fitness. The precursor to intellectual flabbiness is lack of intellectual exercise. The best avenue is reading. Television will draw you away; Internet will draw you away; weariness will draw you away. Where can you find new nutrients to prevent the emptiness of dry rot?
The answer is both far reaching and personal. As a simple example of maintaining flexibility in our contemporary lives, the mariner and his wife scramble for first read of the Atlantic magazine. We have observed that the Atlantic, along with the New Yorker magazine, Scientific American and an array of Internet websites, provide us with a constant barrage of new ideas, new reports on a rapidly changing culture, new interpretations of old, dare we say sacrosanct rituals, and new views of the future that emerge beneath our feet.
Using the technology of broadcasting, deliberately check in on other news channels besides NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox. One would be surprised at the perspectives of news channels sponsored by China, Great Britain, Arabic broadcasting and European news networks. Even Canada has a different slant on the importance of news.
Certain channels like Bloomberg offer educational programs that broaden one’s understanding of the world. Exploring newness is the best defense against dry rot – even new physical experiences.
The mariner can attest that age is an ally of dry rot. It makes the challenge of being a purposeful human being in the world even greater. One must overcome frailties; one must garner strength from task to task. But one should never allow retreat from an active life about which to take control.
At the other end of the spectrum, the young have no perspective on the amount of energy wasted on frivolousness. The young must discipline themselves to ask what the future holds and how they will play a role. They, too, will be challenged by the willingness to recede into dry rot.