If you want to make it easier to recognize something, to understand it and to learn from it, then give it a name. In many ways, all words and phrases are merely shortcuts – quick little representations of much larger thoughts and concepts that make discussing these big ideas, not to mention wrapping our heads them, much much easier. Indeed, Shakespeare was a wordsmith, not for the glory, but out of necessity. There were certain things he wanted to express quickly and succinctly, and the English language just had not caught up yet. It’s the same reason each generation comes up with its own slang; it’s the same reason phrases like “too big to fail” went from being barely in the public consciousness to something everyone knows the meaning of in the current economic climate, and it’s the same reason Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness” swept the nation. In that spirit, here is a series of five terms that I have come up with in order to describe some hereto unlabeled phenomena. Most of these terms have a good story behind them, but all of them are useful shortcuts for certain sentiments and activities.
1. Coconut Syndrome
Definition – 1. When a goal reaches the point of becoming something that one, psychologically, simply must see through to the end, despite the fact that achieving it will give you little or no benefit whatsoever OR 2. when a goal is completely pointless, but nevertheless something that will constantly and persistently needle at you if you do not resolve it.
The Story – A number of years ago, my younger sister came home from the Sunday School carnival with a coconut she’d won playing bingo. Both she and my mom were hoping to enjoy some coconut milk that day, and somehow, despite the fact that I wasn’t really interested in having any of the coconut, the task fell to me to extract it. Having never attempted to milk a coconut before, and being far too foolhardy to look it up on the internet, I set to my task.
I tried to use a simple butter knife to bore a small hole in the coconut. Big mistake. I got nowhere fast. I then proceeded to try to use every knife and sharp object in the house to stab this recalcitrant fruit open: steak knives, carving knives, butcher knives, pocket knives, scissors, screwdrivers, even a meat thermometer. Nothing worked. This whole process went on for a solid forty-five minutes, where each tool I used would make the tiniest little bit of progress, and I would proceed to lament the fact that at this rate, I would be on social security by the time we were tasting that coconut milk. Finally, I had the bright idea to use a corkscrew to through the eye of the coconut. I managed to open up a hole small but sufficient hole. One dinner glass to catch the coconutty liquid later, and thank heaven, we’d done it. My mom and my sister both enjoyed some tasty coconut milk.
But oh, we weren’t done yet. After enjoying the juice from the coconut, they then wanted its “meat.” Again, it fell to me to open it up for them. This set me off to a whole new task. All those knives that had hereto been used as makeshift hand-drills now became saws. I returned to the streak knife and the carving knife and I sawed away. I soon realized that at the rate I was going, I may as well have been digging to China. This called for greater measures.I proceeded to retrieve a number of real saws from the garage. Unfortunately for me, this coconut was a crafty one. Its oblong shape and furry texture made it wobble and slip. I could not manage to keep it still long enough to split the damn thing in half. Now, I was not only angry; I was determined.
I went out to the back porch, laid out some newspaper, and thwacked the thing, monkey-style, against the concrete as hard as I could. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The coconut remained brazenly and defiantly unopened. I tried slamming it on the corner of the patio, hoping that the angle would give me some greater success. Still nothing. I then decided to grab a hammer, and show the coconut who was boss. Whack after whack after whack, and I had barely made a dent in this thing. I soon realized that it was the coconut from hell and had to be dealt with accordingly.
I went to the shed and retrieved our mini-sledge hammer used for driving in tent stakes. I placed the coconut back on the newspaper, asked it if it had any last words, and then with one big swing and one big crack, the coconut was no more. The humble townsfolk (my mom and sister) enjoyed their coconut that day, and all was once again well in the land of Andrew.
Thus, Coconut Syndrome was born. In its truest definition, Coconut Syndrome is when achieving a goal gives you no instrumental benefits, but there’s something about achieving that goal in and of itself that makes you just have to see it through. To wit, at no point was I going to be eating any of that coconut. Sure, maybe there was some instrumental benefit in doing something nice for my mom and my sister, but at heart, this endeavor became less about any good deed and more about one simple fact: I had put so much time and effort into this task, and by god, come hell or high water, I was not going to be beaten by a coconut. No matter what extremes I had to go to, this stubborn fruit was going to be cracked, and I was going to be the one to do it. Coconut Syndrome is a useful label for all those times when the level of effort you’ve put into a task far exceeds any possible benefit you could derive from it, but damnit, you’ve just got to go the distance anyway.
The term has also taken on something of a secondary meaning in my house. We also use it to describe situations where the goal is entirely pointless or unimportant, and yet failing to reach it will annoy the hell out of you until you manage to figure it out. The best example of this is those situations where you’re trying to remember the name of an actor or actress, and it’s on the tip of your tongue. There is absolutely nothing riding on your knowing the name of that celebrity, but it just bugs you, and you won’t be satisfied until you figure it out.
Overall, coconut syndrome can be good or bad. It can force you to stick with a difficult task and give you the satisfaction of doing your best just because it’s something you want, like going all out on a minor assignment for school. It can also have you stick with a losing proposition for no other reason than your own stubbornness, like having a middling hand in a poker game, but refusing to fold no matter how high the stakes go up because you’ve already put so much money into the pot. Either way, sometimes you just have to do it.