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March 18th, 2019
The word detriment, from Latin, via Old French, means ‘wear away’. We might think of the erosion of a coastline, or – perhaps – we might think of the erosion of a waistline for someone who has diligently undertaken a course of exercise and nutrition. Detriment refers definitively to damage, but damage also breaks into ‘loss’ and ‘hurt’. Certainly in the specific frame of health, we can say that it’s not exactly comfortable to lose weight. It hurts to work-out if we are unaccustomed to such and it certainly hurts to hold ourselves back from temptation, both of which result in a beneficial loss.
We can also envision the sculptor chiseling away at a block of marble, surrounded by a pile of detritus. The work of art is not complete until everything has been removed to reveal what the artist has in mind. And here we can differentiate between hurt and harm. Though the two words seem inherently bound in that hurt always leads to harm, we can suss out a categorical shift. If the sculptor keeps chiseling away too hard and cracks the sculpture in half, then of course harm has occurred. And yet, with a thoughtful approach to health, we can endure much hurt while exercising while keeping ourselves safe from actual harm.
Detriment need not be destruction, but merely a way to clean up what has grown through natural processes.
This tension and turn-taking between growth and detriment can be seen in all sorts of situations. As in the biological example of growing, eating and the pairing back the fat, the trend is also apparent in seemingly unrelated areas, such as: searching for an answer.
We google a question and a list of possible sources that may hold our answer pop up. We open up a few links in different tabs, and after much time researching, we might find our browser has grown slow because we’ve opened up dozens and dozens of pages in our adventure down some interesting rabbit hole. After stepping back, we look through all the opened pages and exit all those that didn’t prove helpful – cutting the fat, in the browser-sense.
Through this toggle of expansion and detriment we discover and create the future, whether this be a business or merely an idea, but our rhetoric and behavior suffers from a categorical barrier that keeps concepts like detriment in a negative category and growth in a positive category.
We must remember that tumors grow and that bad ideas can whither away.
Just as hurt does not always lead to real harm, we must keep in mind that the borders between our categories truly have a semi-permeable nature. And in fact, some of these categorical borders may benefit from their own degradation, while other borders perhaps need some growth. Such a process is occurring all the time within language as connotations expand and take over denotations. While such a process is inevitably a cultural one, the individual also experiences the same process on a personal level. The difference is that the individual can Pause and take a mindful, thoughtful perspective on this process and in so doing discover new helpful ways of thinking that can in turn lead to beneficial behaviors.
We can mindfully entertain more helpful ideas and do away with concepts that are no longer serving us well, regardless of what the culture at large tries to dictate, and this may be the most fundamental invocation of that popular advice to ‘go your own way’.
Such general advice may even be a subtle example of these mechanisms of growth and detriment on a large scale. We grow together, but we often benefit immensely when someone splits off from the herd to go investigate something on their own.
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