Thursday, May 13, 2010

Feeling Good about Feeling Small: Individual Talents and the Sea of Greatness





"I'd rather talk about turnips" - James Joyce (when asked what he thought of talking about literature)

(*I switch pronouns in this b/c that's the best I can think of, while still being true to rules of pluralization)

A new mantra recently crept its way into my (often repetitive) inner monologue. "Not Better, but different." Needless to say, it's a helpful one to tell oneself, because unlike telling oneself "I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm happy", it doesn't feel like such a blatant lie. In a world of complex and paradoxical systems(modes?) of thought, this one seem very close to a truth. It is important to explain here that I don't mean "different" should be read as "original", because the way that word is used is often translated into "better", "individual", or "unique", and I'm just not convinced these things exist. That, obviously, is the point of the mantra.

In an (American) world where individual trumps community, it seems we are now caught in a constant disease of comparison. How is this person smarter than I? More attractive? More creative? Better this/that/other? It's hard to break, and it is all something one has to realize on one's own, which is difficult, I know. But I think the problem with this mode of thought doesn't just do a disservice to the individual, but to the community said individual works/plays in. I will use the example of intellect here, because after recently coming out of academia as a master's student, it feels the most familiar, and perhaps the least questioned in those circles. Obviously, this concept can be applied to every craft we find important and defines who we are as people.

Why is the intellect seen as the end-all-be-all to the expansion of the self? Why, when someone mispronounces a word, doesn't know a word/theorist/philosopher/author/artist, can't explain the relationship between time/space, can't explain her thoughts, etc!, is he seen as "below" the other, who must obviously be aware of these things.

Isn't there a lot of other things to know? Isn't that person probably not aware of something that person may know (say, how to tie boat knots, do bird cards, fix a bicycle, float in a lake, cook a pesto, bake cake, caulk, double-dutch, dance, feel wind on one's face, recall dreams, !, & obviously !!!) All really important things that I think are sort of forgotten in the "world of the mind". I just don't think it's healthy to focus on one thing only (gym rats have a lot in common to the hyper intellectual, in my mind). Not to say that these people are BAD or SHOULD REALIZE THE ERRORS OF THEIR WAYS!!! That's against what I'm saying. All I'm saying is, I don't think it's healthy for anyone to compare when it comes to people. We're multitudinous! (Not that I want to celebrate over population, but hopefully you get what I mean).

Comparing seems counter-intuitive to community values, and I mean real community, not the "birds of a feather" mentality, because I hope that we can care enough about ourselves to give everyone else some breathing room.

Oh, and I think turnips could actually be a rather thrilling topic of conversation. I bet a farmer would think so too.