I was a very friendly child, and it took me a long time to realize that not everyone was as friendly as me. A lot of people are, or will at least embrace it if you try to be nice to them on their terms. But some people have terms that aren’t really acceptable, and that is what it took me time to learn. In many ways, I am still learning this: the level to which other people do not, will not, think like me.
There was a girl I was sort of friends with in middle school; we had friends in common, so we sometimes hung out in a small group and I thought that meant she and I were friends too. I invited her to my birthday party one year (seventh grade, maybe? I remember it as a time when I was still somewhat aware of how young I was, that the posture of being non-child was still a known posture), and she said she would come, and then the day of, she said she was sick. The party was fun, and I didn’t think about her that day except when we were all at the market, and I decided we should buy and bring her a flower, since she was being forced, by illness, to miss everything.
We did this, and when her mom answered the door and brought her, it was immediately obvious to me that the girl was not sick. She thanked us for the flower, and we left, and the party continued, and no one ever talked about it. The point of this story being not that she did a mean thing (I actually think that what she did was fairly neutral), but rather that in that moment I realized we were not friends. And indeed, after that we spent even less time together, which was doubtless a good outcome for me as much as for her, because I spent time with people who actually liked me and—if we’re being honest—who I actually liked, much more than that girl.
As human beings, I think we are even worse than we think at understanding that other people are truly different from us. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. That there are people who, no matter how friendly or open our intentions, will never be on our wavelength. Who do not share our thoughts. Who do not feel the way we feel, or prioritize the way we prioritize.
The function of a society (or one function, anyway) is to find a way to live peacefully together, in spite of this. At least, I’ve always thought so. But what about people who don’t think that’s a major function? Such people obviously exist. I look at the way that some people hold onto power, and I think, You know you’re going to die anyway, right?
Which seems a long way, now that I think about it, from a tween girl who lied to get out of a social engagement. But that’s the thing. Life is short. Compromise is possible. Just not, it seems like, lately.
Anyway, I am having trouble thinking about anything but the election, which is probably obvious. I swing wildly between wanting to put good and positive thoughts into the world; between seeing people’s negativity and finding it gauche (not the feeling, but the forcing of it into other people’s faces), and then seeing people’s optimism and thinking Don’t set yourself up to be hurt, though! So what is it that I want? In terms of commentary, I don’t know. However.
I want peace. I want goodness. I want people to try to help each other. I want us to be able to tell truth from lies, and to see “help” and “goodness” as relatively stable concepts, but when you get right down it, that has been an issue for ethical philosophers pretty much from the beginning, so at least I should take comfort in knowing that none of this is new, that all of us have been different and fractious and afraid from the beginning, and that that, at least, is something we all have in common, in spite of ourselves.