Gemeinschaft: The Principle That Won’t Fail You When Enthusiasm Does
Shafts of weak March morning light crept through my draughty window and gently illuminated my bedroom floor. I sat in my old wicker-backed chair, hunched slightly as I mindlessly scrolled through the monster I had created. My alphabetized annotated bibliography, nine-thousand words strong documenting twenty-five papers, stared back at me. My efforts felt fruitless. After painstakingly summarizing these key experiments and straining my eyes on many other articles, I felt none the wiser about salmonid fish cognition. Every experiment was painfully unique and general conclusions seemed impossible, but that didn’t change the commitment I had made. Despite the encouragement of my advisor and the approach of the deadline, my passion for creating a succinct review had bottomed out.
Books, exercise programs, building projects, university degrees, and indeed literature reviews are all very easy to start. Beginnings entail novelty and enthusiasm, but the emotional high of newness plummets faster than the value of a brand new Audi in the hands of a teenager. At the onset of my fish cognition research, I was infatuated with the concept, excited to learn about a new species, and all too happy to bathe in the distinction of directing my own semester-long project. Two months later, sitting there hunched at my desk, the vastness of the task and the distance to the finish line extinguished the last spark of that novelty high.
German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies described two possible mentalities for a society: gemeinschaft and gesellschaft. Gemeinschaft, or ‘community’ refers to actions and principles that support the whole, while gesellschaft represents individualism and self-interest (if like me you can’t remember, geSELLschaft = self).
My project. My semester. My emotions. The low we feel when enthusiasm inevitably disappears is an inward spiral. The ensuing idea of quitting on our commitments, projects, and aspirations is distinctly gesellschaft. When we focus on ourselves, the lows feel lower, the highs feel lonely, and quitting seems like an inconsequential solution. No matter who you are, whether retail worker, doctor, teacher, student, farmer, politician, athlete... your work or education has the potential to promote gemeinschaft - the potential to create positive changes big or small that could be appreciated by few or many. To quit on that potential is to deny the world of your unique ability to promote harmony in your corner.
For me, the principle of gemeinschaft changed my approach to my literature review entirely. My descent into the rut of gesellschaft blinded me to the obvious reality: science can help animals, but somebody needs to step back and make sense of it! Whether my review has an impact or not is outside of my control, but one thing is certain, my work and yours won’t help anybody unless we reach for gemeinschaft, putting our best foot forward even when enthusiasm isn't on our side.