Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When Recycling is Bad

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all in favor of recycling. Today is the age of recycling, or rather today “should be” the age of recycling. Although lots of people have taken up recycling seriously, the majority still does not put much effort into it. The benefits of recycling are only too obvious. So yes, we should all recycle materials, as much as possible. However, materials are not the only things we recycle.

If you ask me, a unique form of recycling is what I call "thought recycling." Let me explain. Many times, people often spend years (decades!) recycling negative thoughts. These thoughts may be with respect to self, a loved one, a lost love, one’s boss, a coworker, a personal failure, an injustice, and so on and so forth. None of us—except probably infants—are immune to this form of recycling. Much to my detriment, I have engaged in this form of recycling myself. A little bit of rumination—so to say—actually may be necessary and helpful, because it helps us make sense of painful events in our lives. However, we should not allow this type of thought recycling to continue for long, because thoughts degrade with each cycle of the recycling process, ultimately creating toxins.

We not only recycle negative thoughts, but also recycle positive thoughts. All of you would agree that recycling positive thoughts would be good for us. Yes, they generally are, especially when they boost our self-esteem and self-efficacy. However, excessive recycling of positive thoughts can be problematic as well. When we recycle our positive thoughts too much, we run into the danger of transforming ourselves into conceited and narcissistic individuals.

The last type of recycling that I would like to talk about is "idea recycling." This form of recycling is seen more often among people who are in the business of ideas—for example, people in the academia and those pursuing creative arts. In the field of management research, for example I know of several people who have made a career out of recycling the same idea over and over again. A researcher may churn out several similar papers from just a single idea. Call this re-search at its best. That said, re-search is not entirely a bad thing—one certainly has to investigate a phenomenon several times and in a variety of contexts to be able get a thorough understanding of it. However, some researchers in their obsession with advancing their career only engage in recycling of some one else's or their own ideas rather than spending time pondering over a phenomenon to gain a deeper insight; in other words, take a short-cut to success. They don’t think much and take the easy way out by re-searching. I would call this the “Death of a Researcher.” Unfortunately you will find a lot of these zombies walking around in every field that involves generation of ideas. You will know what I am talking about if you recollect the times when you came out of a movie theater, heavily disappointed because the movie was nothing but a lazy rehash of an old plot.

I would rather engage in pondering rather than pandering but how will I complete my Ph.D if I wallow in that luxury?

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