A contradiction: Accept humanness, find peace
It started when I butted in on a Twitter conversation between @juanviejo and @susanchamplin, two people I enjoying following. They’d been discussing commencement addresses made by David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Franzen.
I came in strong, shooting for concise and emphatic with my two-Tweet attack.
being utterly aware of humanness doesn’t have to cause pain. It’s sorrowful when it does. The state of humanness has remarkable power & can bring the peace of humbleness.
being aware of humanness lets us understand how much is possible and can give us purpose in a life’s work. We can always gain more mastery. But we have to be at peace with never truly achieving it.
Looking at the two tweets, I decided that I’d made a quick contribution to my corner of the zeitgeist with my dive bombing.
When I read my pithy comments again, I realized that they only sounded meaningful without having any real meaning.
I hate that.
There’s a quote on writing from Barbara Ueland that I refer back to a lot that does the same thing — make you feel like you’ve learned something meaningful without having any meaning.
Everybody is original if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self, and not from the self he thinks he should be.
Don’t you find yourself nodding your head? But what does it mean? True? Self? Thinks? In the 80 years since Ueland wrote those sentences, the idea of being true to yourself has welded to the idea that modern life creates ‘selfs’ that lack deepness, richness and vision. Truth means rebelling against structure and unleashing the free-spirited, loud and iconoclastic self that sings Truth to the treetops.
So just what does humanness mean? Do I have an idea, or am I just tossing off the word because it’s general enough to mean some thing, but not so specific that it has to mean one thing.
Don’t beat yourself up over a stupid tweet, I can hear you saying. It doesn’t matter.
But it does matter, because if we want to improve how we live, we have to have some idea of what kind of person we want to be. We can’t have that conversation with ourself over a long stretch of time if we don’t have the words t0 describe the state we experience, the state that we want to avoid and the state we aspire to.
The guy who wrote those tweets better have a good idea of what he means by humanness, I thought. Otherwise, he was just being shallow.
I scribbled this in the side of my notebook:
Being human: death; strive to understand; strive to communicate; search for safety; experience pleasure; avoid pain; experience empathy; experience Love; control/mastery; chase our mind when it chases fantasy. That’s what it means to be human.
That’s what life has taught me it means to be human. To be aware of being human is to be accept the importance of these desire and understanding that fulfilling these desires will be temporary.
I believe that understanding this about life is liberating and exciting.
When we realize that we can never hope to understand everything, can never expect to satisfy our human needs, because is an eternal constant, the we can become excited by the realization that there will always be something new to leanr, that we will never be done discovering new challenges and striving to achieve new mastery. We can be certain of only one thing in life, that we will be given the opportunity to constantly learn new things. If we can find the harmony in the contradiction that we will always strive to achieve mastery, but that we will never be able to achieve mastery, we can accept that knowledge and find a real sense of peace.
One of the greatest sadnesses is when a fine soul loses hope in the face of this truth about Living. I suspect that’s what overwhelmed David Foster Wallace in the end. That’s what I wanted to share with Juan and Susan — Wallace could name the thing that could bring him joy, but he couldn’t experience it and that’s a terrible fate.