A friend shared a post with me on Facebook the other day, an exaggeration of the creative writing process meant to elicit a laugh and nothing else. I immediately tore the thing to shreds. Not in a reply–it was quicker than that. In the moment I’d finished reading it, I was already thinking, This is wrong in a large number of ways and it teaches me nothing. I’m not laughing.
Then, Oh crap. I’ve lost my sense of humour.
I knew it was supposed to be funny and nothing else. I knew it wasn’t supposed to teach me anything and it wasn’t meant to be entirely correct. It had been designed to refer to generalizations and poke fun at something that’s usually serious. That’s what a joke does. What the hell was wrong with me that I couldn’t even laugh?
I didn’t reply to my friend that day. I didn’t trust myself to reply. The next day I read the post again, and hey! It was funny. It hadn’t changed, but I had. I hadn’t lost my sense of humour. I was just having a bad day, a day when I couldn’t see my life for the days in it.
We’re rarely the same people from day to day. Every part of living involves processing and reacting to the world around us, and that reaction can change, sometimes a bit, sometimes a lot, depending on how much sleep we’ve had, what stress we’re under, even if the caffeine flowed a little too well that morning. Another popular Facebook post says “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” Seriously, I can only just handle me at my worst. What should I expect from my friends?
One of the most obvious and most difficult to remember truths about living in human society is that every other person in the world has an intelligence and interior thought space as elaborate as your own. Every time you feel no one can be as daydreamy, as crazy, as complicated as you, you’re wrong. They are.
Or they aren’t and you’re the only creature in the world with the capacity for real doubt, real guilt, real examination of everything you do, good or bad. An extension of Solipsism, the belief that only your own mind is sure to exist. One soul among robots. The only visitor at Disneyland.
Which is worse? Being no more or less important or interesting than anyone else, with enormous capacity for helping each other (yet you don’t, not like you could) and equally enormous capacity for destroying each other which you likely do on a regular basis without realizing? Or, alternatively, being utterly alone in this place with no chance whatsoever of empathy or connecting with another living being because they’re all automatons and you’re the only one with a true mind?
I have no idea.
“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.”
In Star Trek: The Next Generation Jean-Luc Picard tried to explain this to Data, and it’s interesting in this scene that the stand in for ourselves is not Jean-Luc, the human, but Data, the android. We sympathize best not with the example of our species, but with the outsider looking in, trying to understand. No doubt we try to understand ourselves far more than we exist in a state of peace with whatever we are.
I reencountered this quote while searching for the philosophical or psychological term for the feeling that no matter what you do, you’re wrong. I found objectivity, which is the concept of something being true even outside subjective bias. And I found qualia, or quale, that are instances of subjective experience like a headache, the colour of the sky at day versus night, or the sound of a clap. (Not to confused with the sound of one hand clapping, a favourite Zen koan.)
None of this is quite what I mean, which is standard for human communication, as Data must learn. In fact there doesn’t seem to be a real term for what I mean, although as far as relationships are concerned there is an internet full of advice to decide if you’re in a bad romantic relationship depending on how often you feel wrong. I’m certain you could learn just as much about your relationship from how often you feel right, or at least more right than the other person, with the desire to point it out.