when the coyote catches the roadrunner: peter rollins on achievement
Today on Facebook I posted a light-hearted update about why the fictitious ACME company, made famous in Roadrunner cartoons, hasn’t gone out of business owing to their flimsy products that always seem to backfire on the Coyote.
A friend then posted a link in response. It seems that someone has taken Coyote-related questions seriously.
Peter Rollins, in a fantastic post entitled What happens when you get what you want?, discusses the hypothetical: What would happen to the Coyote if he ever caught the Roadrunner? The below clip illustrates a possible outcome (warning: this clip includes profanity).
On its surface the question may seem trivial, even meaningless. However Rollins uncovers a significant question about human experience, particularly in our fast-paced contemporary world: when we are highly driven to achieve, what happens to us when we get what we have longed for?
What happens to us the day after? And the day after that?
I will refrain from quoting Rollins at length (I encourage you to read his post), but this selection is central to his piece:
In this way Wiley Coyote ends up in a similar place to where he would be if he had given up his pursuit of the Roadrunner. In this situation he would retain the dream of catching him and thus never really be happy with anything else. He would yearn for the chase and imagine, over and over, catching the elusive bird. Nothing else he ever pursued would match up to the goal he had renounced.
Does this mean that the only solution for Wiley Coyote is to keep up the pursuit, secretly sabotaging his own efforts (using defective equipment, old ropes etc.), so that he never catches the Roadrunner? This would seem to be a depressing answer and one that would be hard to keep up for long.
So are these our only options? Getting what we want and despairing, not getting what we want and despairing, constantly chasing what we want and despairing?
How easy to be driven solely by achievement in our social-Darwinian-lite meritocracy, both individually and in our organisations. It is no light task to stand against the tide of defining ourselves by what we do, or perhaps more accurately, what we have done; I personally battle with this daily.
Achievement is of course no evil thing. However when it is the primary, or indeed sole, driver in our lives we are on a road to either devastating failure or post-ecstatic depression.
A simplistic Christian answer is that we should make God our “driver”. This is right in my view, but not for the Deus ex machina concept that underpins it. Rollins puts it so well:
Perhaps there is another possibility, if we are lucky enough to find it. And that is in finding and being with the one we love. In being with the one we love we gain what we desire while remaining at a distance from it. When we love someone they are present to us as a mystery. They are the opening to, and encounter with, otherness itself. They are a vast and endless ocean.
Or as a friend of mine, a well-known Christian speaker, once said: “All this speaking stuff, it’s all bullshit unless your wife and your kids love you.”
In love we find an infinite and evolving depth of experience and acceptance that brings meaning to life. It goes beyond what I do; it is inclusive of who I am and who I am becoming. It goes even beyond this, since “who I am” is parochially individualistic – love includes who we are, who we are becoming, what our life looks like.
How much is this the case with family, or lovers? How much more with enemies?
How much more with the God of Jesus Christ?