My mom loves to watch romantic comedies because, according to her, they lack serious problems and always have a happy ending. She is so opposed to conflict, in fact, that she has literally stopped reading several novels because she knew “it was going to be all bad.” Actual quote.
We make fun of her all the time, but I’m sure that if we were to take a survey of random people on the street, most people would jump at the chance to live in a world sans conflict. I am no minority in this regard. When I was little, I used to make up utopias in my head as I fell asleep in the hopes that my dreams would fall into these perfect worlds of my own creation, therefore bypassing the nightmare worlds.
But as my favorite pop culture analyst likes to remind us when the Glee fandom falls to pieces over a breakup spoiler, conflict drives plot.
That’s the reason why monsters exist, even in fairy tales, and the reason why utopias inevitably become dystopias in every new young adult science fiction series. The moral of the story, I guess, is that we are constantly in pursuit of perfection, but at the same time, if we were ever to truly achieve it, I’m not sure we would even know what to do with ourselves.
I remember learning in AP Bio about a million years ago that life constantly moves toward equilibrium, but is very rarely able to sustain this state for any period of time. Even if the concentrations of solutions on either side of a membrane are more or less even, the particles don’t stop flowing. They continue moving back and forth, passively and mindlessly inching toward balance in a pursuit they will never lay to rest. I would give you some more specific examples, but my memory of biology at this point in my life is severely lacking. You get the idea. Equilibrium exists as a goal, not a state.
In some ways, I can see how that might be discouraging, like the fate of Sisyphus, also known as that Greek dude who is condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain, only to find that every time he reaches the top, the boulder simply rolls back down and he has to start over. Because damn, that would suck. At lot. But if our quest toward perfection is truly a Sisyphean task, then we have two options. The first would be to let the boulder stay at the bottom of the hill, the way that the Greek gods intended it to be forever. If we were good enough at pretending, we could even treat the bottom of the hill as if it were the top, accepting the will of the gods in exchange for comfort.
The second would be to defy the gods, Kafka-and-Camus-Existentialist-style, roll the boulder up the hill, make some friends along the way, and get some pretty sweet muscles while you’re at it. You can probably see which option I’m rooting for.
It’s harder to see when we’re talking about a metaphorical boulder, but this is the choice I find myself faced with every day. My life is a series of conflicts, and to be honest, I often wish it were otherwise. Let loose a little, but not too much or else you’ll get in trouble. Be kind, but not too much or else people will walk all over you. Be confident and stand up for yourself, but not too much or else people will be scared of you. It’s like my quest to jump from cliff to cliff, except times a million. Don’t listen to gender roles, because that’s like Feminism 101, but sometimes I don’t want to be in the driver’s seat, and I mean that figuratively, but mostly I mean that literally.
I wish that there were some kind of compromise, and I’d like very much to believe that there is, somewhere, and that it has simply evaded me. But maybe the truth is that there isn’t one, just like there is no true equilibrium. Maybe the world is full of perpetual imbalances, so that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to rest.
Some might be frustrated by this Sisyphean task, but I will try to see it as a law of biology, created to ensure that we are never complacent in the way things are. Conflict drives plot, and if the alternative means a lack of plot, I’ll fight every battle.