A contradiction: Accept humanness, find peace

by DRM



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.