To tell you the truth: I had been very unhappy this past month. This singular discovery confuses me, of course, noting that I wasn’t able to find any particular reason of me being in such state. I definitely have an awesome job, got myself a dozen of new books, and published a couple of (although generic) articles here and there. Baffled, I slid through the calendar trying to get myself distracted on an arbitrary rotation of activities.
Only recently, I figured out that I haven’t had any good conversation for a while.
I’m not talking about the typical “What are you up to?” kind of catching up—those are delightful as well, but too predictable. I’m taking about conversations that make your heart race because you cannot foresee how the person across the table would respond to your weird question; conversations that could not make you care any less about what you’re wearing that day. The best ones.
The partner I usually count on, to my remorse, has been unavailable for intellectual engagement recently and my instinct told me this situation isn’t gonna change anytime soon. Luckily enough, a nice friend who just came from down under invited me to chat over coffee (I ended up getting green tea) last weekend—and another took me to a spicy dinner with the following Monday. Both supplied me with insights special enough to keep my mind sane for the rest of the week.
People have different analogies but I think conversations are like a thought-mining site—one that works best when reciprocity is conceived. Here’s how: as you continue listening to the other person, your mind wanders and digs into new memories or piece of idea—then takes them from the back of your head, brings it right on, until it passes on through the dialogue. Later they work as a stimulus for the other person to also prepare a new set of responses, thoughts that would not have presented themselves otherwise.
It is a remarkable process and, like someone said, might actually be more intimate than sex.
P.S. An unbalanced interaction, on the other hand, would leave one of the parties tired, either of slowing down or trying to run faster. (This is why humans must stop settling down for spouses who aren’t their par, btw.)
On a more substantial note, here are several viewpoints from both conversations that resonate and stay with me whenever I wake up in the morning within the past few days:
1. Conversation Is the Closest You Could Get to Pretending That Connection Exists
Each of us was born in this world alone, and although the promise of having a soulmate is very tempting, at the end of the day we will also die alone (and pretty much alone in between, too). We have families, friends, and lovers, indeed, but these are external beings; individuals who went through a unique experience different to yours—chances are they could not grasp the inside of your brain 100%. They could try because they care about you, but they would not—and never could.
Conversations are then a very good consolation to this sad truth.
Through exchange of symbols (words and gestures) that we somewhat agree to understand as representing certain concepts, humans think they understand one another. The truth is, there’s a good possibility that we are not even talking about the same things right now.
I however still believe in the romantically stupid idea of ‘having a connection’—because let’s be honest to ourselves: there are moments, magical ones, when you look into another person’s eyes and know exactly what they are talking about and, at the same time, know that they know that we know about what they’re talking about. When you’re at that point of epiphany, for a short second, you might believe that connection is possible. It’s a comforting sensation.
2. Life Could Be More Meaningful If People Stop Romanticizing Their Consumption
Johan, an extraordinary thinker he is, suggested a brilliant dichotomy: that any activity is either a consumption or production. Easy examples to the former would be: eating, drinking, and reading. The latter in the meanwhile involves certain efforts made to construct or build a new item for someone else’s consumption—writing, cooking, and film-making could be several.
We used to, he pointed out, hit the minimum bar of survival for our consumption activities, and focus on romanticizing things that actually matter. We ate because we’re hungry, not because the restaurant cooked our favorite meal with a foreign oil. We went to places because we wanted to spend more time with friends, not because we wanted to be part of the acknowledged hipsters.
But thanks to social media, recently this trend shifted and we’ve become this cult of empty individuals who oversell what we buy and lost interest in smaller things that are essential—things that make us human. Today, it’s a shame how bookworms and librarians (yours truly, too) stop sharing the insights they got from books and instead start posting quotes on the virtue of reading books. People take pictures with famous people they’ve never heard of and check in places they saw from postcards.
Conversations, on the other hand, are an act of producing. It processes raw thoughts and words into more digestible and consumable premises. It is production, ladies and gentlemen, that allows mankind to possess a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
3. People Don’t Actually Care About What You Do With the Rest of Your Life
I don’t know about you but in the past 20 years, I have lived under the misleading impression that people cared about what I achieved or failed to deliver. This then set me on a winding road of, among others, taking a major I don’t necessarily love, winning competitions I don’t necessarily feel challenged by, or doing work I don’t necessarily enjoy. I have no regrets up to this point though, because, as you might have been part of, so far the journey has been wondrous.
But here’s where it gets interesting: I finally realized that apparently nobody cared. Or if they actually did, they stopped caring as you turn 21.
I mean, I’ve always been told to take option A over B, do C over D, read E over F, but now suddenly everyone went quiet. My parents let me do what I want, my friends are busier minding their own career, and here I am, pretty much clueless about what I should be doing ahead. Our linear education system has been constructed in such way that we have always been assured that there is only one correct answer (remember those multiple choice questions), and the fact that now life allows you to create your own options from thin air is not very helpful.
Yes, some of them still advise you to take A or B and the rest have expectations on your shoulder, but if you have reached that mature understanding that none of them actually cared, things become a lot easier (although trickier at the same time). I mean, it’s been bugging my mind for some time about the steps I must take had I really wanted to publish a book.
Regardless, I’m quite sure that I do not want to be part of the proud corporate slave society who have doubleplusgood income but got their entire life given up to the 9-to-5 routines manipulated by companies that pay their salary. I want to still have this independent mind, to be able to think critically, and most of all, to be myself. I want to be fully-aware and conscious that it is my right and it is completely fine to take a day off to just sit down under a tree and spend the entire day thinking about the meaning of death.
4. Instead of Love, Use Fear; It Offers More Certainty
Still related to that: almost two months ago, I came across this clever article on, to oversimplify, career choices. The most appealing part of the article (that might be misjudged as a crappy self-help scribbles), is the fact that instead of using Job’s overrated ‘do what you love’ one liner, it appeals to the human fear. It suggested that, if you’re not afraid of losing it, you don’t love it enough. So instead of measuring affection or admiration toward certain job or sector, think about something that scares you the most. To me, it is imagining that if I eventually publish a book, it will end up on the discounted shelf because nobody likes reading it. *knocks on wood*
5. Understand, Because Tolerance Is Ignorance
This one came from Ben, who unintentionally pointed out how the concept of ‘tolerance’ has been overused (if not abused) to accommodate the worst state of human being: ignorance. We have not, he said, tried our best to understand differences—let alone putting our shoes in someone else’s. Instead of really getting to know them better and understand their situation, all we do is sit down and create distance.
“It’s fine as long as they don’t disturb me,” is not enough. It’s not fine. Talk to these people, try to grasp how they look at the society who puts them as the marginalized, then you could claim that you have done your part.
If you’re also feeling unhappy lately, maybe you need a good conversation, too. Here’s a tip: start with an honest “How are you?” and mean it when you ask it. Also remember to answer it with however long you want to answer it with when someone else ask you that.