If you spend enough time with me, eventually you may hear me end a story with the phrase, “like the frog in the pot of water.”
This is a reference to the (completely debunked) idea that if you put a frog in a pot of hot water, he’ll jump out immediately, but if you put a frog in a pot of room-temperature water and then heat it up gradually, he’ll stay in the pot, not noticing the increase in temperature, until he dies.
I use this idea to illustrate the fact that I find it difficult to detect gradual changes in the things around me. I don’t notice that Maude has gained weight until the vet tells me that she needs to lose two pounds. I don’t notice that my skin has cleared up until I oversleep, go to work without makeup, and am surprised to find that I don’t feel gross all day. I don’t notice that I’ve stopped watching too much TV until my mother puts on The Devil Wears Prada after Christmas and I can’t seem to pay attention.
I find this phenomenon frustrating. After I notice that these tiny changes have built up into one big change, I always try to go back and pinpoint the time when the change began to occur, but I’m never successful. When did Maude start to chunk out? When did my face stop being disgusting? When did I begin listening to music instead of turning the television on? When did this water get so hot? When? When?
Have you ever heard of the Sorites paradox? The Sorites paradox arises when precise language is used to describe things that are imprecise. How many grains of sand does it take to make a pile? Fifteen? Twenty? How many hairs does a person lose before they can be described as balding? Have you made a hole when you dig one shovelful of dirt? Half a shovelful? A spoonful?
There’s no such thing as half a pile, and no such thing as half a hole. If these things existed, perhaps I could pinpoint the exact moment when the water goes from cold to hot, or when something that occupies one role in my life begins to occupy another. But they don’t exist, so I guess I’ll never know.
And maybe it’s better that way.