Learning to Adapt

Firstly, I want to talk about consent and choices. Dawn is exemplary of how intertwined the ability to make choices and the ability to consent are. Lilith has been placed in a position that she did not consent to, which means any choices she is presented with are not truly her own, especially in the controlled environment of the Oankali ship. For example, early on Jdahya gave Lilith the choice to end her life by touching his tentacles, which would cause him to involuntarily sting her. Lilith “chose” to keep living, even though she didn’t understand why she wanted to.  This is shown when she says, “Oh god…Why didn’t I do it? Why can’t I do it?” (45). This demonstrates how in her circumstances she can’t really make decisions that are actually what she wants to do. 

Yet while the Oankali have taken away her ability to freely consent and make her own choices, Butler hints that humans have done the same to Oankali. It seems as though they restrict each other in different ways, because the decisions the Oankali make are not typically based on emotions, as is the case with humans. Butler portrays the Oankali as more logical and careful, while the humans are more emotional and reckless. Nikanj said to Lilith, “In a very real way, you’ve captured us, and we can’t escape” (153). It’s complicated, because Butler hasn’t given us all the details of what motivates the Oankali beyond their own will to survive, but it almost seems like Humanity was the perfect match for the Oankali (and maybe even the Oankali the perfect match for humans, but that’s up for debate). I don’t have much evidence to support this as I think I need to keep reading to understand better, but I believe the Oankali are so attracted to humans specifically because of people like Lilith. They chose her to essentially be the mother and leader to the other humans they have recovered. Their desire for her to lead is explicitly shown when Nikanj says “Serve them by leading them, Lilith” (160). They are depending on Lilith to bring her group of humans together, but why choose Lilith if they didn’t want her to teach the others to live as she does? This is why they are especially attracted to Lilith, because of the idea of “follow the leader.” They like the way Lilith has responded to her situation. As Tediin told her, “You’re rare–a human who can live among us, learn about us, teach us” (107). She was able to do this because of one of our course epigraphs; a motto that Lilith chose to live by, “Learn and Run!” Lilith says to her group of humans, “I think our best bet now is to learn all we can. Get facts. Keep our eyes open. Then later we can make the best possible use of any opportunities we might have to escape” (143). 

After Lilith declined Jdahya’s offer of death, she really had no other choice but to “Learn and Run!” She was placed in a very extreme situation, away from her home planet and with no other humans or familiar surroundings to guide her. She was basically reborn, so like a child she took in as much information as she could about her surroundings and the Oankali and ran with it. But this wasn’t much of a choice that she made; it’s what she had to do to survive. As I said earlier, any “choices” she is presented with are really just an illusion of choice since she is unable to provide true consent. Lilith is driven by the thought of returning to Earth and escaping the Oankali. She wants to live, and she wants freedom, but she can’t get it without putting the effort in and acquiring help. This is why she took such care in choosing who to awaken. In this sense, Lilith also lives by our other course epigraph: 

“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not….Habit is persistence in practice. Forget talent. If you have it, fine. Use it. If you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter. As habit is more dependable than inspiration, continued learning is more dependable than talent.”–Octavia Butler, “Furor Scribendi

Throughout Dawn, we’ve seen Lilith rely on habit. No matter how hard she was pushed, she stayed focused on her goal of escaping. She got into the habit of accepting change and adapting to her surroundings. This leads me into my goals not only for this course, but for my life too. Mainly, I want to strive to be as adaptable as Lilith is. I think 2020 has been a year where everyone has had to adapt in some form, I know that the covid-19 pandemic is not something I consented to, and I have had to “Learn and Run!” just as Lilith did. It made me realize how quickly my way of life can change, and that any plans I have can’t always be depended on to stick. I want to learn how to get more comfortable with change, especially change that I did not expect or consent to. 

I want to get more in the mindset of depending on habit, too. I’m not always the best at balancing my responsibilities, but I believe if I can get into a cycle of work and relaxation that works for me then it will become habitual and not something I have to motivate myself to do. It seems kind of strange because I want to get better at both adapting to change and establishing more consistency in the way I work. They seem like opposing ideas, but if I work towards mastering both I can learn how to balance them together. 

Finally, I want to find some firm answers of what brings people together. I know there isn’t one correct answer, but I have been experiencing divisions between myself, my family, community, country, and world. I want to re-ground myself in what’s most important to me and how I can feel more connected to a world where everything seems to be falling apart. I don’t think I can achieve all of this in this one semester, but I can take meaningful strides towards achieving these goals.

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