Birth, Work, Death: Reframing How We Think About Decline

If one understands
The law of cause and condition,
One can find spring
In the midst of autumn frost and winter snow
–Buddhist verse

Earlier in the week, when General Motors (GM) delivered the (not totally unexpected) news of their predicted bankruptcy filing, President Obama struck a somewhat upbeat tone assuring Americans that this would be a second chance for GM after a decisively “painful birth.” This metaphor seems euphemistic and novel, considering this was unequivocally a significant death for the largest automobile manufacturer of the modern age (of any age for that matter). But Obama, and those who want to see this move as more of a rebirth than a throwing in of the towel, might want to look at it as the difficult writhing and scraping that is required with shedding the skin of a battered old snake.

The remarkable thing about this headline grabber was how close birth and death were associated and linked almost as if they were opposing sides of the same coin. This sentiment is a rarity among Americans and American culture, as birth is almost always distinctly the festive upside, and death is the terminal downside only to be spoken of in hushed tones. While I will refrain from giving the president too much credit, he was seemingly trying to reframe our notion of the finality and irrevocable character of death and present something like the demise of GM as less of a collapse and more of a flame out and subsequent phoenix-like rising.

To alleviate some of the focus off of the GM situation, it might be helpful to look at this little sound bite, or turn of a phrase, as an invitation to get a deeper understanding of the grand continuum. While you may believe what you will about resurrection and reincarnation, here in the whirlwind that is contemporary life, there is distinct evidence that birth, death and all that comes in between are linked, not just by chronology, but a cyclical process. The law of conservation of energy dictates that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant, and therefore can neither be created nor destroyed. It all just runs in dizzying circles making life, making noise, making trouble, and then moving through stages of decline until something else sprouts up in its place.

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, N.Y. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon App�tit among other publications.


ii q.
g d c5 years ago


Laura P.
Past Member 5 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Elena Arutiunova
Elena Arutiunova6 years ago

Thx for sharing!

Bon L.
Bon L7 years ago

Thanks for the info.

Max Overton
Max Overton7 years ago

As the song says... "We're all going to die, ha-ha!"

Past Member
Past Member 8 years ago

You said: 'The law of conservation of energy dictates that the total amount of energy in an isolated system remains constant, and therefore can neither be created nor destroyed'
It was once believed that the Sun revolved around the Earth; who said that human determined laws hold true forever? Let alone dictates? Eric, really? And what of the energy we call 'love'?

cecily w.
cecily w8 years ago

HA HA I am old. As you get older some things don't work as well so you adapt. New knowledge and technology become available so you learn. New ideas come from many sources, even from people a LOT younger than you are. If everything stayed the same life would be very boring.

The old General Motors did not adapt, did not learn, and was not sufficiently receptive to new ideas. Maybe it will reinvent itself (although keeping the previous management systems will
make this harder). Or maybe it will die. Either way it will be different.

Pamela C.
Pamela C8 years ago

Think of the plight of all the carriage makers when the model T hit. It didn't matter how great a carriage you made. They and all the harness makers had to retool and rethink what they made to stay in business.

Susan T.
SUSAN T8 years ago

Good analogy! Let's take it one step further. All life (that's everything that I can think of including our planet) has a life span. I am now thinking that the entire "bail, stimulous, etc." was for little or nothing. I'm thinking that if all those "rip off, greedy" corps went down, another something (maybe better, maybe not - at least more experienced) would take their places and on we would go, changed somehow, but on we go. Change is inevitable, same as life and death. All the spectators (us) have to do is bend in the wind.

As to the death of our planet, that's a fact we cannot change either. We can hasten it along, but stop Mother Nature? I don't think so. AND... that's the way it's supposed to be!