At my son's hockey practice today, I was sitting on the bench nursing my bruised rib from Monday night's practice (we parents are trying to put a team together). The kids, I noticed, fall down all the time, sometimes so hard that it makes them cry, but they very rarely get seriously hurt. The reason, of course, is that their coaches know what they are capable of and give them exercises that will challenge them but not hurt them. Also, there are serious rules about equipment and etiquette (uncompromisingly enforced) that keeps everything safe. Finally, they're on the ice for an hour at a time, fully focused and doing their best. All of this is part of a long tradition, throughout which the experience of getting injured has been taken seriously and incorporated into the practice (in a double sense) of the game. Hockey can be a dangerous game, and this fact is recognized in very practical ways by those who play it, and those who teach it.
A disturbing thought now entered my head: Are we as good at respecting the inherent mental dangers of scholarship? Do we even recognize the possibility of getting "injured" while engaged in our "knowledge work"? Is it, indeed, possible to injure your mind in a way that is analogous to the way I injured my ribs Monday night? I'm not sleeping well because of it. I'm going to skip a couple of practices. I'm going to buy some equipment (not doing so earlier was clearly mistake number one!). I'm going to think about the reckless abandon with which I threw myself in to the game. But does anything like that apply to the two or three hours we sit in front of the computer writing our papers, practicing our thinking? Can we "break" something? Or is scholarship a completely harmless activity?
I'm going to think about this some more and blog about it at RSL tomorrow morning.