When Does Determination Become Destructive?

Is this piece about Brexit? It certainly could be, and the fact that mainstream politics has devolved into something resembling a university dilemma should not go ignored. Through the cyclone of ERG absolutism, consistent challenges to her eradicated authority, and an infighting opposition, Theresa May has been knocked down nine times and gotten up ten. At what point should one admit that things just aren’t working out and switch it up? In Brexitland, never. In our reality, however, it’s something we need to consider.

We are more fortunate than May in that we don’t have international laws to negotiate around at every turn, although university marking criteria often captures the same mystifying quality. Essays, exams, projects, and presentations all ask for committed engagement to a theme or body of work, ideally with a lot of independent work put in. Particularly if you’re a humanities student (though I imagine the concept is familiar to students in other faculties), the process of completing work is largely self-motivated and self-guided – we do what we want when we want to do it. Even when a module provides set questions to work from, what we write on is our decision, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that some students choose to work with ‘questionable’, perhaps even ‘wild’ ideas. Pairing texts that don’t seem to have much in common, say, or pursuing a niche concept at the expense of more fruitful discussion. In attempting to be creative and unique, a perfectly appropriate ambition, they veer off into obscure and bizarre places. Should we commend their perseverance for ‘giving it a go’ or try to stop their one-track thinking? Of course, the grade at the end would indicate the impact of their fixation, only by then it’s far too late.

It isn’t just in work that this issue crops up. I’ve seen many people try to make relationships with friends and extended family work that fall apart regularly – despite the draining effort they consistently put in, for whatever reason there’s no payoff. After a cacophony of noise powerful enough to rival a motor race, they end up right back at the starting line, more exhausted than when they began. Clearly, I don’t know the backgrounds or details of any of these relationships, but the effects of such strain are difficult to mask from friends and I can’t help but wonder whether this is an admirable determination to fix a faulty relationship or futile stubbornness only causing pain on both sides. Should they give up the ghost or keep at it?

Don’t look to the government for a role model – they’re essentially obligated to carry out this Brexit farce to the bitter end. Were May a student contemplating a dissertation topic, say, she’d have the option of bailing on her original plans and switching it up with something for which she had actual enthusiasm. Yet a valuable lesson can be garnered from the political pile-up we’re living in, or at least a point to consider before you commit yourself to whatever action you’re taking. Even if your decision will seemingly only impact you – for example an essay topic – you’re not the only one with a perspective on it. People will say that your personal judgment should govern your actions, and I’m certainly not suggesting you become a doormat for others to walk all over, merely that you remain receptive to what they say. Other people detached from the situation you find yourself in, whether it’s a tight deadline or an ongoing feud with a former friend, often see things you don’t, and can expose the arbitrariness of assumptions you didn’t even realise you were making. Determination becomes stubbornness when our perspectives are so skewed that we don’t even remember what seeing straight was like. When we ignore the value of anybody’s thoughts beyond our own is when our persistence turns toxic, destructive even. Be mindful of others, both in relation to this and in general.