Thursday, 3 September 2015

On the Battlefield

Professor Maxwell was convinced he was on to something - there must be a secret to developing a thick skin. A scientific theory he had been for some time developing and hoped to expand on through the study of genetics, the behaviour of hormones, and the influence of environment and diet. From this lengthy process he would then be able to assert the single or multiple cause providing an insulating effect and why it was that some coped with life's knocks and setbacks whilst others faltered.
In his head, his hypothesis reduced humans to that of squash balls or soft drink cans; one bounces off walls and obstacles, whilst the other is repeatedly crushed underfoot, hurled in a waste bin or kicked along the pavement. The circumstances that gave rise to whichever reaction didn't seem to matter as Professor Maxwell surmised it was a conditioned response. And perception, it appeared, only cemented an individual's position further.
It was curious, he mused, how people perceived situations differently, even down to a person's mannerisms or mode of speech, or how some felt vulnerable and others challenged by the exact same threat. But what chiefly interested him were the two groups at either end of the scale, those who experienced only one of the extremes, and not the common middle ground. The layperson who managed to govern their emotions and veered somewhere between fight or flight aroused him very little. No, he was after those who were either rabbit-soft or as durable as tanned leather, and more especially those that had a thick skin like a rhinoceros' hide.
In his preliminary studies which he'd had to conduct in order to secure further funding he'd found some volunteers so sensitive they cried over every little thing regardless of whether it affected them directly or not, and others who donned permanent armour every day as if they were perpetually engaged in an ongoing battle. The results of this small study had been quite remarkable and surpassed his own meagre expectations, for he tried never to put his ideas or desirable outcomes above his station knowing full well that he was the maverick within the university. A non-entity in the scientific world; someone who in terms of his success rate didn't figure on any measurable scale, not even Richter's, having had no papers published, and at best was humoured by his more serious colleagues who largely considered his various theories unscientific and therefore unsupportable. They believed, that despite being in his mid-fifties, he had schoolboy whims which the Head of Department and Principal allowed him to indulge in at a cost to the university's academic reputation, and to be more precise felt his merged field of epidemiology and epistemology (medicine and philosophy to the layperson) was all front and no substance.
The subject, they felt, was everything that science purported not to be: a new form with a basis in psychology governed by illogical musings and psyche babble with a smattering of biology, which offered no firm evidence or reliable conclusions. And they despaired of Maxwell, omitting the 'Professor' when referring to him in conversation amongst themselves, feeling strongly that he did their profession a huge disservice. His scatter-gun approach much frowned upon for everyone knew he followed his impulsive train of thought, frequently turning his attention from one study to focus on another. Research, they felt, should be orderly and his inconstancy set a poor example.
Professor Maxwell however was never one to listen to reason; in short he was what his colleagues called dense, only concerned with his own findings and his maze-like process to them, which was what made his latest and greatest research by quite some margin so irrational for the man couldn't see that he was one of the armoured lot he hoped to discover how to emulate, and had in fact answered as well as contradicted his own thesis: A thick skin could not be acquired, it was a gift from the cradle and thus concealed from the receiver's eyes; inwardly such people failed to see the shield they carry without.

Picture Credit: Rhinoceros by Albrecht Durer, 1515