Wednesday, January 14, 2015

To Be Honest, or as the youths say TBH

My new boss is all about honest conversations. He wants me to come to him about anything I do not understand the reasoning behind. It took me a while to take this seriously. I was temporarily floored for many reasons, not the least of which is the constant background feeling that I am a child actor in an adult play called Life who the professionals humour by pretending that my input matters. Another misgiving I have is that Real Honesty has never been profitable or even invited in my understanding of How The World Works.

Example: I used to work in telemarketing for which a special place is reserved for me in Hell. I sold insurance to people over the phone. If I was being honest with myself I knew these people did not need it, did not understand fully what they were being sold and that there was a reasonable chance that many months would pass before they realised there was a sizeable automatic deduction from their account for which they would no doubt have any recollection authorising. But the pay was good and the hours were flexible and I wanted to go to Spain. So I did it for a year and shelved the Truth somewhere in the back of my mind when I could afford to think about it.

Back to the question at hand. Honest Conversations are to be avoided the same way young foreigners in bright T-shirts and clipboards for Save The -Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing are treated like beggars, with your eyes cast down and a very purposeful stride in the shape of a wide arc to circumvent them. It's not that human beings as such are naturally uncharitable but just that you know once you are there and he/she is building rapport with you, smiling from ear to ear and being generally earnest, that when they slip in some uncomfortable Truth about related Whales-Children-Youth-People-Environment-Thing and hand you a form with an opportunity to contribute in some way to its Attempted Resolution, the chances of Not Giving are pretty slim.

It's not that honesty isn't powerful, it's that we know its power to make us uncomfortable and to fundamentally unsettle the way we currently live our lives or do our business that it's best to avoid it altogether. Except in cases where the stars align. Example: I HONESTLY love this cronut. Vegan baked goods are ACTUALLY the best things invented. etc. etc. (also true of non related food matters such as TV shows, animal-related viral content and travel destinations).

What Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, David Foster Wallace and Louis C.K all have in common is that cutting ability to sit down at the dinner table and speak honestly of the metaphysical. They don't turn away from it but rather use their craft - their humour, their writing - to have with us the very honest conversations we do not often have with ourselves. Listening or reading them there is no way around the metaphorical Clipboard Advocate for Truth, they look them right in the eyes and start asking questions. Why are we here? For jobs, really? For money, surely not? For Progress and Economic Growth - huh? Are we still humans if we divorce ourselves from nature? Is cooking a lobster alive cruel? How can we be less lonely? They ask these questions, trust me.

The real value of this is, like all worthwhile things, almost impossible to quantify. In the context of my work the Honest Conversations my boss was willing to have went back to rudimentary criticisms of all Community Development, Charity and Aid industries. If we are, in our attempt to "help", in actual fact not helping those we said we would "help" - what are we doing? Why are we getting paid? Why does our service/profession/organisation even exist?

It takes my breath away. What better questions can you ask of anything? Any self-interested professional would quickly understand that these Honest Conversations endanger ones own status and yet on a human to human level, a Human To World Scale it is powerfully simple, simply powerful. These conversations start small and they grow. If we can start to be honest on this micro level the huge, very honest questions readily emerge. If we can step away from the immediate feelings of uncertainty about how these questions may unsettle our lives it more quickly becomes evident that Real Honest Conversations are the ones we should be having, always and ceaselessly.

What are we doing?
Why are we here?
Does it even matter?
What are we doing if not answering these questions?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014: Some things I've "learned" (in theory)

Disclaimer: This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things I've learned in a year, which one would hope to number more than six. I've left off many things that are glaringly obvious and for which I need no reminder (one can make life-long friends from other countries who one will probably never see again, I would marry the spanish language if it were legal, I am hardwired to be peripatetic, Life is fun, quinoa is good for you, etc.)

Disclaimer 2: I put the learned in quotation marks because getting an education is distinct from, yet often confused for, putting it into practice. Because knowing something to be true is not a guaranteed precursor to living life as if it were. But it helps, somewhat. Essentially what I'm saying is that I've learned these things previously, many times over but often behave in direct contradiction to these lessons. I think they call that "living".

ANYYYYYWAY here's a list of things you probably already knew or didn't need to:

1. Trying to be the cool girl in a relationship is not beneficial to anyone. The cool girl, who is too proud to care, too secure to be bothered, too busy looking like whatever, such is life, either way, that's cool. The girl that is unruffled and aloof - that girl is not me. I am not the cool girl, I was never the cool girl. Small things can hurt my oversensitive self immensely and I have never had a poker face. It has injured my pride no small amount to discover I am in fact the girl that can be irrational, insecure and quite frankly embarrassing. That's okay though because being the cool girl is overrated. What's cool about not caring enough to be hurt?

2. God I love to read books. How did I forget this essential part of my life? Somehow I got caught up with articles, so abundant, so accessible. Fiction, non-fiction, contemporary, 18th-century, historical analysis, memoir, collections of essays, diaries. Give me nothing but books and a comfy couch and quietly close the door behind you.

3. Be my friend if you want to talk about books and their ideas. I want to discuss everything. This is not so much a lesson as a demand.

4. You can be discontent in so many beautiful places. It does not matter what waterfall you are under or what famed city the bus is taking you, your mental state will follow you there. It's true that perhaps a place can momentarily remind you of the wonder and beauty of life, or that living there can show you some alternate way of living and/or looking at life but places do not fix much. You were unhappy somewhere else, and now you can be unhappy here too. The common denominator is you.

5. I have become more discriminatory about what I get enthusiastic about. Everything used to excite me, now only some things do. It's probably not healthy to maintain that level of energy about every party, every person, every conversation. I am unable to muster the adequate smiles and wide eyes necessary for long recounts of stories that sound the same with people I no longer know very well. My ever shrinking batteries can only give out so much.

6. Despite my natural disposition towards extreme emotion I am learning (very often failing) the art of polite disagreement. The importance of this ability has never been so plain as when I landed myself in a relationship. It's okay, even encouraged, to scream at your friends over dinner and wine. Less so with the person who you supposedly love and respect. This has allowed me to refrain from yelling abuse at my laptop as I furiously type rebuttals to bigoted facebook updates (yes, I am one of those people). It's also, like, allowed me to admit when I am, on the odd occasion, wrong*.

That's about it.

Of course there are things I've learned that haven't made it to that list, mostly to do with learning what style of life I can lead and what standards of hygiene can be adjusted when one lives in a country that is poor in money and rich in culture. Things that have confirmed the direction I've taken in my 'career' and what values I want that to reflect. Other things I've learned have to do with being in a long-term relationship (like, that they have to  love put up with you). Mainly if you paid attention to this list you would learn I am a non-cool book nerd who is consistently dissatisfied, increasingly unenthusiastic but learning to smile while saying you are wrong. It sounds bad but it's really not. Happy new year!

*my boyfriend may disagree