Seeking Sancho: Conviction, Chivalry, and Common Sense

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is Cervantes’ powerful story about an unrealistic idealist. The main character, Quixote, is mostly well-intentioned but often misguided when trying to rescue the world from itself. He is also at times a disturber of the peace who unwittingly (and only occasionally) manages to do some good. One of the ideas behind the book is that morality, tradition, and courage are not universal in their definition. The story also warns those who take up causes in the name of virtue about the damage they could be involuntarily inflicting along their righteous path, often creating miserable circumstances for those around them.

I don’t see myself as a quixotic person, but I do “fight” regularly for what I believe in – both in personal and subjective realms like arts and culture, as well as in more fact-based professional disagreements. I feel particularly strongly about championing my ideas, I suppose in no small part because of the highly scrutinized and questioning environment and industry I work in.

The idea of how much fighting we do as individuals has been circling in my mind for a while now. And a small matter that unfolded at work today brought into light the questions I’ve been having about the interplay between conviction and common sense.

I was being challenged over a word that would have, in my professional opinion, greatly improved the overall quality of a product I was working on. But, upon reflection, it seemed very stupid to retaliate and ready my lance because of one word. Kicking a fuss over this minute detail would be the definition of quixotic. The opportunity cost here was too high, considering the fairly minor impact of this particular product on the bigger picture.

Almost as soon as I made the decision to “let go” and relent, a very unsettling feeling washed over me: is perspective, the big picture, undermining the strength of my conviction?

It was disturbing to see just how quickly and easily I set aside my own valid views in favour of a quick and easy resolution. Could this mark the beginning of indifference? Does the absence of a fighting spirit signify a lack of passion? Will dropping this one relatively tiny issue be the loose thread that, when gently pulled, unravels and disintegrates a complex tapestry of personal beliefs and convictions?

Or was the discomfort I felt a result of realizing that the fight is not outwards with a client or coworker, it’s my way of coming to terms with the full spectrum of the issue. It seems we are all at war with ourselves each and every day, with two sides called up for battle. One fights for beliefs, convictions and ideologies, while the other defends perspective and a well-balanced examination of the true costs and benefits behind each cause.

Whether or not Ideology and perspective exist on opposite ends of the spectrum, a balance of both is essential. Perhaps, like Quixote, I have been seeing things in black and white, right and wrong, when I should also consider the hues in between – assigning value to conflict in terms of significance or transience, worthy of fight or flight.

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