Most students think that writing means writing down ideas, insights, vision. They feel that they must first have something to say before they can put it down on paper. For them writing is little more than recording a pre-existent thought. But with this approach true writing is impossible. Writing is a process in which we discover what lives in us. --Henri Nouwen
Maybe I've been going at this all wrong.
I have long harbored bitter jealousy toward people who always seem to have something interesting to say. I conclude that they must lead a different life, a wildly interesting life, where things happen and those things can be written about in witty, spare paragraphs where my life of quiet desperation and slipshod housekeeping was once full of stories but now trundles along on quite a dull path indeed. "What do I write about once all the good stories are told?" I seem to ask myself.
A ridiculous question. Whose good stories are all told? Not even people who are dead, I imagine, since there are quite a few friends I have lost whose stories are told by everyone who remembers them, and not all the same ones, either. So here's me, getting over myself.
I'm thinking about Facebook a lot right now. And don't worry, I'm not planning on going off on how Mark Zuckerberg may have single-handedly brought down civilization by miring every person with a computer in a mind numbing swamp of rude cartoons and cat pictures. Nah, I'm going to complain about the collapse of respectful discourse.
It is pretty well established that the computer grants people a boldness they may not otherwise possess. I might not get in a shout-down argument with my political opponent in Dunkin Donuts over a bagel twist, since that would be rude and unseemly, but hey! I can call them (subject)-phobic crypto-(subject) subjects on Facebook, and gleefully click 'Like' on anything that insults them effectively and entirely, skipping around sharing perverse memes like a mean little fairy flinging glitter. Gritty, scratchy glitter.
If I'm honest, I'll admit that the first "But....but..." is my own. Something of the 10 year old me surfaces when I think about this, the girl who sullenly declares "But THEY started it." But logic prevails. It has to. Look, there are lots of things people will never agree on. There is absolutely nothing that can be done about this. But we all have choices. We all have the choice to say, look, I don't think we are in the same place on this, but I want to understand better where you are coming from. This is absolutely without risk. It is not 'letting down the side'. It isn't sedition. It is making an actual effort to understand the set of assumptions and conclusions that drive a person's opinion REGARDLESS of how spurious you might think they are. And when two people who disagree sit down and agree on one thing-- speaking and listening with respect, that's when the magic happens.
1. You are dealing with a PERSON, not a party, not a PAC, not a side, not 'Big Whatever'.
2. You may get an opportunity to dispel a myth. Or have one of your own dispelled. This is a burden you get to put down. The other thing you may get to put down is that big brush you have been painting with in describing whomever you identify as your opposition.
3. You may find out that at the end of the day we all want the same good things.
I've always had the suspicion that treating people with compassion and respect regardless of whether it is returned, indeed, even if it isn't returned, is less exhausting than nastiness and judgement.
I've been noodling on this for a while but it was driven home to me in an odd way. Talk show host Jimmy Kimmel has a bit where he has celebrities read some of the things people say about them on Twitter. Something about seeing the person's face when they read what others have said made me wonder whether we've taken evil and called it honesty. And whether in our hyper-connectedess we've depersonalized other people even as we are in each other's lives like never before, to the point where we think we can be as "honest" as we like with no consequences. We forget that the simplest tools can be weapons, depending on how they are used.