Chiasmus

by Ben Perreira

Patterns in human behavior tend to repeat themselves. One of those is the pattern of balance. Enter the chiasmus. In literature a chiasmus refers to a story’s structure containing similar ideas in the beginning and end, with separate ideas clustered in the middle. Picture an hourglass or the letter “X” (in Portuguese the letter is pronounced “shis” ~ “chi”) in which shape is mirrored from top to bottom.

We use the word “palindrome” to describe a word or phrase whose spelling is identical front to back and back to front. See: race car, otto and wow (which is also an onomatopoeia, as some nerds will notice). Again, it’s all about balance.

And then we get life’s structure. Depending on how one wishes to define success and where one grows up, it can go something like this:

As babies things are very structured, so attached to our mothers arms that our eyes have yet to develop sight beyond a couple feet. Pre-school, kindergarten and elementary school follow highly regimented methods of education. 

Things begins to change in junior high when we are allowed some choice in courses. This trend continues in high school, and structure loosens when most of us learn to drive, transporting ourselves free from the need of caregivers.

Likewise, college is fairly undefined. We choose majors and are expected to plan careers at age 18. Coming from such a tightly planned schedule, it is no surprise that this is a challenge. Graduate school leaves us with even less definition, even more so for those who pursue PhDs and must largely direct their own work.

And then we have work. We find that we are only able to create value in the commercial sphere by connecting dots. Doing things by the book significantly curtails success. There is no roadmap. Even classically well-defined professions (law, accounting, medicine, etc.) are now being forced to change how they operate.

Then, some day, maybe, we retire. We return to structure that is more self-defined, but heavily structured nonetheless. Routines dominate. Conservatism wins. The target for happiness becomes less nuanced and thus more easily reached and appreciated. 

Regardless of the level of structure, we can find solace in the awareness of our place in it. So as my buddy likes to say “Put a smile on that ugly face, it will make you look cuter.”

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