Sunday, January 13, 2008

Commentary: Denali , Entropy, and You

I recently watched a PBS special on a group of climbers doing scientific research on Denali (formerly named Mt McKinley) and ,coincidentally, I recalled that someone I knew while in graduate school had also recently climbed Denali. Now, I am no mountaineer, not even close. And I watched the TV show with great anxiety, as I realized that the lack of oxygen, fierce and unpredictable weather, and sheer cold, could (and does) kill many a climber.

Yet, it occurred to me that, in a sense, Denali is an example of the “entropy” we all experience in a quest for personal success. In a sense, climbing such a peak is “safer”, in a convoluted sense, than is our day to day journey toward our personal goals.

Why would this be? Because, on Denlai the forces of entropy, the forces of disorder, the forces that conspire to freeze you, starve you, and suffocate you are brutally obvious. Yet, in our daily lives, those same forces, just as powerful, are subtle, incremental, sometimes existing just below our awareness. Some of them are in the famous “important but not urgent” quadrant of our lives, where the fate of our wealth, longevity, and spiritual happiness reside. This is not a 10 day climb. This is a 90-year trek. It’s called our lives. But if we persist in ou rignorance of these forces, slowly, but just as surely as the gusts of Denali, we will freeze, starve, or suffocate.

Also, gladly, there is a high peak, with a breathtaking vista, which we all can reach on that trek. And we can be just as proud as the most heroic mountaineer, if we make it to the summit, having survived, planned for, adjusted for, improvised, and disciplined ourselves for that arduous ascent.

So, what are the forces of entropy that sneak in, unseen and unheard, to plague our own ascent of life’s Denali? Procrastination, refusal to save and invest, the lure of debt, refusal to study and learn, about our capabilities, our fitness, our nutrition, our abilities to relate to others. The climber, with a good team, knows what to expect. But so do we. Yet the climber is utterly sure of death if she fails, while we, lulled by our “safe” job, “never been sick a day in my life”, “what’s a little drink among friends” “new credit card” etc, face just as sure a demise, just as sure a fall into the crevasse of ill health, death, financial ruin, etc but, because our climb is long and the gradient easy, and we have seen such good weather in our youth, been praised by our parents, teachers, counselors, etc…we are in a much greater danger. The climber is absolutely certain of freezing to death. But we ignore the odds. We skip a day of exercise. We spend a dollar instead of saving it. We “wing it” at the major presentation. We cut class.

And we fail. Because we don’t see ourselves as on Denali. Because the metaphor of the relentless cause-and-effect , law-of-nature status of Entropy, this metaphor, I say, eludes us. At our peril.

You are on Denali, my friend. Not for 10 days, but for your entire life. But you are in luck. Hearty bands of climbers, the great authors mentioned in this blog and elsewhere, the Napoleon Hills, the W. Clement Stones, the Tony Robbins’, and all the rest, have climbed to the peak before you. They are throwing lines down. They have ample nourishment and warmth for you. They stand atop the summit, drinking in their glorious success, surveying the earth below, and they eagerly pitch in to help you, O weary climber, if you will but grasp a line, use their compass, see through their spyglass.

You can cheat the wind. You can prepare for the cold. You can find the key route. You can provision your camp. And you can gain the peak.

You can conquer your Denlai.

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