Saturday, August 03, 2013

Differences

Welcome, beautiful traveler. I greet you with an appreciation of how unlike me you are.

In all probability, we have some number of things in common. Clearly, we're both fluent in English and both denizens of the Internet. You seem to have some curiosity about matters of religion and/or tolerance for unusual religious viewpoints, or I would have expected you to click away after reading the banner of this blog and the opening lines of the post. We're thoughtful, I believe, you and I. By this point in my musings, all the non-contemplative types have almost certainly gone elsewhere. And if this is not your first visit to my blog, then we probably share some common attitudes and wishes for what the world could be like.

But we're different, too, and if we were to converse our way through a few dozen topics, we would undoubtedly find many points of disagreement and perhaps even conflict.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

I recently encountered, for the first time in many years, a classmate of mine from high school. There was a time (possibly almost the entire time I knew her) when I thought this person was the most beautiful girl in the school -- maybe even in the world, at least for a moment or two. She was very sharp, a keen and clever mind with a rich, intelligent smile and the kind of happy laugh that made you feel very accomplished if you managed to evoke it. But we were on a different wavelength, this girl and I. We were both honors students, both writers, both middle-class suburban children at the outer edges of popular culture and some social norms. Both intellectuals. The same age. In most of the same classes. Yet she didn't understand my writing at all. She once told me something along the lines of, "You're a really good writer. I just wish you would write something serious."

Meanwhile, I dismissed her as a stuffy, narrow-visioned aesthete who looked down on entertainment and was only interested in rarefied, cerebral, self-indulgent explorations of form or technique and dreary, reality-centered themes on human existence.

As the years after high school passed and I widened the scope of my acquaintances, developed a greater appreciation for people whose interest diverged from mine, I often thought of this girl. What if, instead of shrugging her off as my diametric creative opposite, I had been willing to engage her on the basis of our kindred talents, had perhaps explored what it was that so interested her in higher literature, had attempted to make her understand the value I found in fantasy and satire? Might we both have been enlarged? Become fast friends? Dated?

Over time, I grew convinced that I should have connected with her, not just passed through the same halls and classes. That we should have been more to each other than we were. That perhaps our lives should have remained deeply interwoven through all the years since we last saw one another.

And then a few months ago, I ran across her online. She is a regular contributor to a website where she reviews films, and I read a number of her articles, and discovered ... we're still just as different as we were in high school. She likes movies, I like movies, but our responses to them are very far apart. Her reviews are dismissive of films I found entertaining, or, if she gives a thumbs-up to a movie I liked, she singles out for criticism things that I thought were the best parts of the show.

All of which is actually terrific.

It turns out I was wrong about the possibility of us connecting more strongly in high school. I simply wasn't prepared, at that point in my life, to engage someone with an interpretive framework so contrary to mine. Perhaps she was more mature and might have been willing to engage me, but clearly, neither of us would have changed the other's mind in any significant way. It would have required me to be a different person than I was at that time.

In contrast, today I could easily be friends with someone whose aesthetic sensibilities conflict with mine. I enjoy comparative discussions involving disparate viewpoints, so long as they are respectful and good-humored. I got a kick out of reading her reviews and remembering fondly this likable person who happened to disagree with me on some subjects I considered central to my identity.

That we were different then annoyed me. That we are different today cheers me, both because it reminds me that I was actually a pretty good judge of people as a teenager (though not necessarily as good a judge of myself), and also because I now value variety, which tells me how much I have grown.

Thank you, goddess of love, for the crossing of paths unlike our own, and for what it tells us about ourselves and about the world.

Lovingly yours,

A devotee


5 comments:

Strumpet said...

Wow. So weird to read this after the things I, myself, have been writing about. I have such a hard time with how different my boyfriend and I are. It is the hardest thing that I am going through in my life at the moment despite not having a job, being out of school, being poor, and a million other things. It is so hard that he and I are so different. It is teaching me a lot about myself. Maybe things about me that I don't even like, which is the hardest of all. My struggles with this have turned me into a person that I don't even like. Maybe I am just an immature teenager deep down inside, or something. I shouldn't even say maybe. After reading this, I think it's kind of a given. But, this realization doesn't necessarily change anything.

This is a beautiful post, Devo. Whenever I come here, I wish I could be more like you on the inside.

Devotee said...

We're all immature deep down. The trick is knowing that and working with it instead of against it. Creativity and spontaneity and curiosity are all childish traits. Cynicism and fatalism and ennui are all adult traits. The one set gets replaced by the other when our selfishness and egocentricism cause us to externalize our disappointments. Whatever makes us unhappy becomes the world's fault, and in blaming the world, we lose our trust for it, which causes us to question the point of creating, to anticipate undesired outcomes for any spontaneous actions we might contemplate, and to fear what we might learn if we indulge our curiosities. But when we recognize that both our disappointments and our moments of joy are driven by our egos, we can choose to keep creating, to remain spontaneous, to express our curiosity, because we know that those traits will satisfy the desires of our egos far better than cynicism and its kin. With targeted selfishness and conscious egocentricism, we become children who can weather disappointment, and we can again find joy in the external world, including in other people. But by pretending that the ego can be "grown out of," we trap ourselves and wall off the world. We pretend to know all about it and all about ourselves, where in reality we know neither. And when we see others who are happy in the world, our only possible conclusion is that the others are fools, or that we possess some critical flaw within ourselves, becoming isolated misanthropes on the one hand or retreating into a depressive coccoon on the other.

The problem is not that you're immature. It's that maturity has brought you only grief. We need to be conscious, not mature. Consciousness allows us to embrace all the responsibility and empathy that we associate with maturity, but it does not require us to give up the wellsprings of joy.

So be immature. That's where most of the best parts of you are.

Strumpet said...

So well said. As always. :)

Devotee said...

Thanks. I just realized that a shorter way to say this is that maturing is just getting older and closer to death. We need to strive to get closer to life instead.

Strumpet said...

So much yes.