I’ve not been able to stop thinking about these questions today:
Because, you see, potential is only a theoretical thing and, by definition, cannot be anything more. Think of it in the most basic scientific term of potential energy. A great big boulder sits at the top of a hill, it has potential energy. Once that boulder starts rolling, it is no longer potential energy.
It’s kinetic energy. That energy is entirely theoretical until the boulder starts rolling. And once it does, there’s no more potential energy. It’s energy that never actually existed except in theory.
And we use the word with children all the time. We look at children and see nothing but potential and we think ourselves hopeful and optimistic and never think of what a damning word potential is. When you have potential it means you aren’t good enough right now. That you are somehow lacking.
And yes I can hear the oh so American cries that will equate this idea to some imaginary hippie-dippie everyone-gets-a-trophy culture that is creating weak children, so you better be tough on those kids! Bull. That attitude is simply the result of thinking “I made a success of myself. I was treated harshly at times. Thus that’s why I’m now successful.” Of course there is no way to justify that the treatment led to your success except for the fact that you connected those two ideas in your head yourself.
Potential, when thought of in the science point-of-view again, also speaks to our American obsession of making sure we are doing. We do it with children all the time. Kids standing around on the corner doing nothing: “slackers.” “lazy.” Maybe even “suspicious.” In a classroom, if the children aren’t visibly in the midst of some kind of action, the assumption is that learning must not be going on. Even in our culture now we are obsessive about doing something. Anything. If we are still for any reason, waiting for an appointment in an office maybe, we find it difficult to sit and simply be. We turn to our phones, magazines, books, tv.
Of course the same crowd that complains about the sissy culture above, also complains about our culture of being buried in our phones, and likely also complains that kids sitting around doing nothing are lazy slackers and all of these actions are actions of people wasting their, yup, potential.
I don’t know. I think if I were that rock, sitting up on top of that hill, and I had human consciousness, of course, and that view from up there. I’d be pretty damned happy just sitting there on all of that potential. I might stumble onto a couple of deeply thought out ideas. Like why the hell isn’t it good enough to just be up here on my hill and be happy?