Familiarity breeds content (and contentment)

Most people who know me would not call me lazy. They would be wrong. The fact is that I assiduously avoid hard work; I haven’t had an actual job in nearly eight years. In all facets of life I gravitate toward the easy stuff.

Right now, for example, I should be cramming for the first day of Tax-Aide tomorrow, but instead I’m searching for animals in the jungle. While this task may be more fun than studying tax law, it isn’t always easy to tell which species appear in the 15-second video clips. Some animals dart through the underbrush at a distance, some appear mostly outside the frame, and in some cases the image is poorly illuminated or out of focus. But the biggest impediment to accurate identification is ignorance. No previous activity in my life has required me to tell a warthog from a giant forest hog, a red duiker from a small gray duiker, or even a chimp from a gorilla. So I spend many minutes comparing images, replaying clips, and squinting at the screen.

The one species that I can effortlessly ID without fail is humans. (Well, there was one clip where I wasn’t sure if I was seeing a person’s sleeve or an elephant’s trunk, but as long as more than half a human limb is present, I can be confident of my annotation.) This makes perfect sense, because I’ve seen humans every day for nearly 63 years. I can even distinguish individuals with some accuracy, a feat I haven’t yet mastered with chimps.

Language proficiency is a lot like animal recognition. The more time you spend immersed in a language, the more fluent you become. The lazy option is to speak only your native language and feel perpetually perplexed by all others. Instead of IDing African animals I could be studying Hebrew, Spanish, or French. But languages, like tax law, are just too hard. I will never get the hang of calculating ACA affordability or the seven conjugations of Hebrew verbs, whereas I have some hope of learning the quirks and features of some species.

Plus I would much rather contribute to saving species than to saving taxpayers a few dollars. Yes, even now, when our tax dollars are likely to be so thoroughly squandered (and  maybe that’s the real reason I want to escape to the jungle).


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