Tuesday, February 26, 2008


The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors is a nice take by John Tierney on the power of letting go -- accepting realistic limits on how many possible futures you can entertain.

Xiang Yu was a Chinese general in the third century B.C. who took his troops across the Yangtze River into enemy territory and performed an experiment in decision making. He crushed his troops’ cooking pots and burned their ships.
He explained this was to focus them on moving forward — a motivational speech that was not appreciated by many of the soldiers watching their retreat option go up in flames. But General Xiang Yu would be vindicated, both on the battlefield and in the annals of social science research.

And thanks to Time putting some of its archives online, I can provide the name for the trope of the closing door: Torschlusspanik, as felt in East Germany, 1961:

Last week a curious and serious malady was affecting Communist East Germany and reaching almost epidemic proportions. The name of the disease was Torschlusspanik, which literally means "fear of gate closing." Everything East German leaders did to shut off the flow of refugees to the West seemed, instead, to spur it on.

So the fear of a closing gate spurs people to finally take the hard path to the desired outcome.

There seems to be a lot of Torschlusspanik in the air these days.

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