I work with this guy named Shawn. For the longest time I thought it was Sean, but then I found out it is Shawn. This, oddly I have to admit, actually affected my opinion of him, in the slightest way. I don’t know exactly why, but there is something about the name Shawn that rubs me the wrong way. Meanwhile I have always kinda thought that Sean was a nice name, a dignified name. I still call him Sean, and he doesn’t even notice.
Anyway, I love this guy. He and I share a few things in common, but not very many. We are both veterans, we both have families, we both speak English, we work for the same company, we live in the same general area, so on for many other mundane things that you could find you share in common with mostly anybody you’d encounter on a regular basis. Our differences are more substantial, but they really don’t have that great an effect on either of our daily lives or the interactions between the two of us. Actually that’s not entirely true, they color every interaction we have, but not in anything resembling a negative manner. In fact I think they allow both of us to grow from our conversations.
Shawn holds some very unique views. He subscribes to a certain religion, one which I do not need to name because It doesn’t really matter that much. He claims to be, and acts as if he is, for the most part, very devout in his faith. But once you scratch through the surface you find that his religious flavor is largely secondary to his many other personal views. This is something that I have found to be pretty much true for the majority of people I’ve had in-depth conversations with. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with this, or that he’s a bad example of his faith, he’s actually an exemplary member of his fellowship, at least superficially – and that’s where it counts when you’re talking about modeling behavior.
I’m not focusing on Shawn’s beliefs or faith, or lack thereof or twists thereupon, I’m just trying to provide a little context. Shawn is a great dude, but he’s a little all-over-the-place and a bit much to grok.
Shawn and I have fairly deep conversations on a pretty regular basis. I spend around two hours a week discussing things with Shawn that I would have a difficult time finding anyone else to discuss with, outside of the internet that is. This is a luxury that I do my best to cherish and enrich as often as I can. I’ve been in situations before where the only intellectual stimulation I had came from my own imaginary friends, and that gets old real quick, it also almost every time leads you into erroneous thinking.
Shawn has some pretty out-there views and is not ashamed of them at all, something I admire. Although I disagree with many of the things he thinks and feels and believes, I respect the fact that he is unconcerned with how people will view him and unabashedly lets his views be known – when someone asks that is, he isn’t one of those overbearing, opinionated know-it-all types.
Our conversations sometimes are very deep and philosophical, sometimes contentious, and sometimes they’re about our favorite colors or our first pets’ names – do you think he’s trying to steal my online banking information? Sometimes I get impatient with him, when I can see that he is being intellectually dishonest or lazy, and sometimes he gets impatient with me when I’m obviously being closed-minded or prejudiced. We always work through our differences and at the very least part with the reassurance that we will give each other’s views an honest and unbiased appraisal. I don’t know that I’ve specifically expressed to him just how much I appreciate him being my sounding board and also providing some novelty in my life, but I do go out of my way to provide the same for him.
The other day he asked me if I think I would be any different a person had I not gone through the specific things that I have gone through. Obviously the answer is yes, but there is a whole lot more to it than just that. Yes, of course, we are the product of both our genetic makeup and our specific life circumstances, change any factor no matter how apparently minor or insignificant and you’ll get an entirely different result. But is that the case, or is that just the answer that makes the most sense? The answer I gave him was, instead of a simple yes, was that it doesn’t matter and I attempted to tell him why.
I do not believe in fate or destiny or predestination or whatever you want to call it. At least I think I don’t. It kinda hurts my brain to think about. Part of me wants to believe in determinism, that if I were in fact Laplace’s demon and had the requisite knowledge I could know the future and fate of everything. Another part of me believes that each individual consciousness is novel and has agency and can act on its own behalf and in its own interest, and that decisions are actively made in response to stimuli, as opposed to being simply consequences of unimaginable amounts of separate factors – and I realize that both of these points can in fact be compatible, but are not necessarily. Both of those parts wonder what either one has to do with this subject in particular, fate and determinism are concepts belonging to different realms of inquiry and can rather confuse one another as opposed to complimenting or elucidating the other.
Setting aside my own inability to cope with epistemics, this question prompted me to think a lot more than I think Shawn thought that I would need to think in order to give him a response, I think. And the ensuing conversation brought some things to mind that really trouble me.
So many people seem to be more concerned with what has happened to them than with what is going on at the current moment, more invested in their own personal narrative than they are in the actual world outside and around them. This, in my opinion at the very least, is the defining feature of, and problem with, how we live our lives today. I myself have had many things happen to me, some of them bad, some of them really bad, some of them good, and so on. Nothing that has happened to me actually matters. Sure, they may in fact have influence over the person that I am today, but they do not define me, nor do they lock me in to any course of action or set of beliefs.
Should we spend all of our time comparing personal tragedies and travesties? Showing each other our scrapes and bruises, commiserating and undoubtedly embellishing and ultimately trying to outdo one another with just how much shit we’ve been through? Or should we put our grown-up trousers on, agree to and accept the fact that we’ve all been through some pretty horrendous shit and get along to the business of improving the world around us right now so that maybe, just maybe, we won’t have to face more horrendous bullshit moving forward? I think we should all get over ourselves, and don’t think that I preclude myself from this, and start focusing on what really matters – that being what comes next. What you will do when presented with a given situation, rather than what someone else did in a situation long since passed.
We all need to divest ourselves of our ego, cut ties with the insidious comfort provided by adopting certain narratives and labels, and face the world that lies in front of us. It is difficult for me to explain, but so simple a concept that I don’t think it needs to be explained at all. Cut the BS, be honest, look forward as opposed to back, stop trying to change the past and start working to impact the future.
I apologize for posting such a jumbled mess, I’ve been struggling these last several weeks to write anything at all with my work schedule increasing so much. I thank you for having the patience and determination to make it to the end, and I hope dearly that you got something worthwhile from reading this, something that you will carry on into conversations that you have in your own life.
So long and thanks for all the fish.