SISYPHUS SYNDROME: being compelled to repeat a self-defeating practice continuously

According to ancient Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a man who undertook activities that were deemed inappropriate.  He was punished by being forced to roll a huge boulder up the side of a steep mountainside in the attempt to get it to the top.   Every time he came close to the top the boulder would roll backwards to the bottom, forcing poor Sisyphus to have to start all over again.   While numerous people have speculated that he eventually found success and was relieved of his excruciating task, there is no conclusion to the Greek myth.

Consequently, the Sisyphus Syndrome is characterized by the idea that a person is forced to continue to be punished by an impossible task…forever.  In most cases, modern usage of the term indicates that a person forces (him)self to undertake the impossible task, refusing to accept the fact that he will be unsuccessful.

When I think about the Sisyphus Syndrome it exhausts me.  Even looking at the image above causes my gut to shrink into near-spasms.  And when I translate the image into a metaphor I get no less exhausted.   The frustration of ancient Sisyphus is translated into my gut.  I can dress up the feeling by calling it compassion or empathy, but the fact is that it is just as unhealthy for me to be absorbed by the frustration of the person and (his) useless efforts as it is for him to continue to push that damned stone up the hill.

The syndrome also has systemic implications.   An organization, no matter how sophisticated, can choose to repeat a failing process over and over again, refusing to accept the fact that the process is killing them.  I think of Kodak, a magnificent company that delayed and denied the necessity to accept the fact that film and its related photographic equipment was going to become obsolete (for the most part) given the onset of digital photography.   The collapse of the film industry became an inevitability.

Just so I don’t lose my flow of recent postings, I believe that the United States government is playing a Sisyphus theme, refusing to believe that its structure and practices are failing.  The need for a complete overhaul of its systemic components is obvious to everyone except those engaged in an attempt to govern. They have embraced a Sisyphus mindset that is self-defeating.  The result is the persistent production of doubt, lack of confidence, and frustration on the part of the American citizenship.

It has taken campaign finance practices to make this point clear to me.   The action of the Supreme Court was flawed and the way it is being brutalized by Super PACs is disgraceful.   Election law needs complete overhaul to return the capability of the American voter to its rightful place.  Supreme Court procedures need scrutiny, just as the President indicated in last year’s State of the Union address.  The role of the President in establishing “out of session” practices needs revisiting.  These are just the tip of the iceberg.   But the passion for governmental reform is active.

Not to embrace such reform is to condemn this country to a Sisyphus Syndrome fate.  The boulder is getting larger and the patience of the American people is getting thinner.


Photo Credit: coconutheadsets

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