Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Virtue of Quitting

There's the old joke, "I was walking down the street and saw a guy hitting himself in the head with a baseball bat. I asked him why he was doing it and he said, 'Because it feels so good when I stop.'" The moral of the story being that sometimes quitting is a good thing.

But we as a culture seem to disagree. Failure is one thing, but quitting is worse. Only quitters are losers. We heap scorn upon those who throw in the towel. You need to finish what you start. We hold this even when that thing is something we don't want to do and aren't doing well. I've heard the story from many fellow parents who had children in organized activities that they came to really dislike. "You don't have to do it again, but you need to finish the year/season."

It would be one thing if there were not enough children to field a team or have the dance/band performance without this one person, but that is not the case. It is that there is held to be a particular virtue in finishing it out, in not quitting, in enduring something you loathe even if there would be more productive ways of spending your time. Did you really make a commitment to your band teacher or team that has the moral weight of a promise? If you hate the activity, you clearly won't be putting your all into it and therefore wouldn't be maximally helpful. Wouldn't it be better not to be a drag on the group?

It is certainly true that many valuable things are difficult and take grit and determination to get through. Yes, we want to teach our children how to do what they need to do even when it isn't easy. But do we learn to do what we need to do by being forced to do what we really don't need to do, just for the sake of having done it all? I've given up on articles I've had virtually done because they weren't coming out as well as I had hoped and the research wasn't taking a shape that interested me. Don't see anything wrong with that. Is there not also a virtue in coming to realize that I don't like what other people do and I have the strength to say "no, thanks" and walk away? Is quitting really a vice in and of itself? Is that a lesson we should also be teaching our kids?