I have a coworker named Shawn. A few weeks ago I wrote a post that was ostensibly about him. I’m writing another this evening because on the way home from work I just couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation we had this afternoon.
Shawn and I are from very different walks of life. When we were both kids I’m sure we would have tried to fight each other, at least I would have tried to fight him. I’m very glad that this guy is in my life now, though. I’ve known him for a couple years and the very first time I met him I knew that he was a special person.
The first time I met Shawn I was the New Guy at work. I was in a bad mood, because that’s my default, and I hate being the new guy anywhere because you have to go through the whole rigmarole of introductions and establishing boundaries and roles and all that jazz. Also, our job pretty much sucks and I was still in the process of accepting and adjusting to this. On top of being new and uncomfortable, I was going through a very difficult time in life, dealing with loss and other things that aren’t pleasant to discuss, so we won’t.
So, I walked over to his work area, looking for something essential to the task I was assigned, and he promptly and cheerily introduced himself. At first I was standoffish, I was like ‘Oh great, THIS GUY.’ But after a quick conversation, in which I divulged much more personal information than I had planned and he demonstrated his accepting and compassionate nature, I realised that he was a really good guy and that I’d do well to start a friendship with him.
Now Shawn and I often have protracted conversations about various subjects, some examples include: Schrodinger’s Cat, welding techniques, what is wrong with society, what we had for dinner the previous night and how it has affected our flatulence, rainbows, shoes, faith, Star Wars or Star Trek, and many, many more. I don’t think there exists a subject that the two of us couldn’t exhaustively discuss and, more importantly, walk away from the conversation feeling good about having had it.
This is missing from the world today, I think. People are overly sensitive. I don’t mean to be that guy that says things like “Back in my day we were harder” and words like “pussification” but I do have to point out that there’s almost nothing anybody can do anymore without offending or outraging or ostracising or marginalising somebody. And I’m really not okay with that, but that’s a long rant that I’ll save for another time.
Shawn and I stand at opposite ends of the spectrum with respect to a great many issues. We do share some things in common, but it seems to me that people tend to focus more on what sets each other apart than on anything else in this day and age. It’s distressing to me to constantly see and hear all this vitriol, all this fear-of-the-other, all this distrust and acrimonious separatism and superfluous labeling with intent to delineate and just plain hate everywhere I look outside my own echo chamber. It’s like we’re inside an exaggerated sci-fi novel, like a paranoid, perverted William Gibson version of an Orwellian antiutopia with Huxleyan overtones. The world has gone mad, stark raving mad!
I think a huge factor in this is that we no longer have conversations with each other. Like, actual conversations, not removed in both time and place online forums .Even as I write this I’m committing the act that I’m deriding, but I think we can utilise the tools at our disposal as long as we act as responsible, intelligent adults.
Really though, when was the last time that you, dear reader, had an extended conversation with someone in real life? Sure, we all hop on the internet and are able to have conversations with anyone, no matter where in the world they are, about any topic we could possibly imagine. Just spend ten minutes randomly browsing reddit and you’ll simultaneously fall in love with and lose all faith in the human race. But when was the last time that you had a contentious conversation face to face, when you were faced (sorry) with your interlocutor’s humanity? When was that last time that you allowed yourself to hate the idea, but love the person it was coming out of?
Conducting meaningful discourse online is amazing and I’m convinced it will continue to break down barriers, but we must also realise that it enables us to slap a label on something that we may not like and associate that thing with the person or even a group of people, and then we immediately feel separated from that person in a way that isn’t easily reconciled.
It’s quite terrifying, to be honest. If I were to trust the headlines I’d be convinced that I belong to an already miniscule and irreversibly dwindling subgroup that has been oppressed and objectified and abused, and that I’m in literal danger every time I step outside my door (insert Frodo joke here). I’d go into all my discussions with not just a chip on my shoulder, but the righteous, unwavering fury and blind devotion of the crusader. I’d fail to listen to my counterpart because I’d already be sure that they were in the wrong. I’d hear nothing but what I wanted to hear. I’d not see another human across from me, but a collection of ideas deemed anathema.
I am eternally grateful that I have another human being in my life, that I see on a daily basis, that I can argue with and still call a friend. I am so happy to have such an unorthodox friend who proclaims such ridiculous ideas that I am sometimes forced to laugh, sometimes brought to tears, and often goaded into losing my composure, yet I still feel love for him, I still would go to war with him, I still would give him the shirt off my back and I know he feels the same.
We need to force ourselves to step outside our comfort zone- cum-echo chamber. We need to remind ourselves everyday that, though we apparently share very little in common with a given person, they are every single time a human being that can and will if allowed to bring value to our lives. We need to stop being afraid and outraged and enraged and start living our lives in this big, beautiful world around us.
Thanks for reading guys. I hope all is well. I challenge you to seek out these potentially difficult conversations with real people in real life. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you’ll find. And if not, then I think you’re probably beyond help. Have a good one. Nanu-Nanu.