Wednesday, July 8, 2009

not a blog

I wrote this for English yesterday. It was supposed to be a persuasive thing, but it did not turn out so much argumentative-like, which, oh well. Very much thanks to Sara who I talked to about stuff and also to everyone else who volunteered, you guys are lovely. It's on the theme of happiness and imagining people complexly, cause that is always good to talk about.

John Green is a New York Times bestselling author. He has tens of thousands of fans, and he interacts with them daily through youtube videos, blogs, live internet shows, twitter, and countless other websites. Many teens cite him as their inspiration for taking up writing; his books have opened up the door to reading for thousands of kids. Through the youtube videos he makes with his brother Hank, he has spawned an entire community of thoughtful, caring individuals. Personally, John has influenced me more than any teacher I’ve ever had, though I’ve never even met him. He is admired by multitudes and is able to do what he loves for a living, but yet John is not a happy person.

One’s initial train of thought upon learning this would probably go something along the lines of “Why not? His life sounds great. I’d love to be in his position. He’s financially stable, works his dream job, gets to interact with this amazing community of people daily. What else does he want?” As humans, we are severely limited in our ability to understand others, and this can make life pretty terrible, but happiness, or at the very least contentment and acceptance, can be found when we realize and keep in mind that we are not alone, that everyone goes through the same thoughts and feelings of loneliness, sadness, and inadequacy that we do.

Author David Foster Wallace addresses this issue in a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College. After a lengthy monologue about how annoying and unfair and horrible the day to day grind is, during which the crowd actually cheers in understanding, in essence a collective applause acknowledging the unfairness of life, Wallace says that this is the exact opposite of how we should think (79). Instead, he says that the means to a better life lies within us, with how we choose to view the world. We must acknowledge that other people are as multifaceted and complex as we are, and that this choice “involves attention, and awareness, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day” (120). It is with this conscious choice to consider others and have compassion and to realize that they are just as real as we are that we will be able to be more happy, more understanding people.

A few months ago, John Green read David Foster Wallace’s speech during one of his live internet shows. After completing the speech, John discussed the meanings and implications of the text with his viewers:
We want people to acknowledge that we matter, that our griefs are real, that our joys are real, and we want that so much, and we think that being famous will get that, then famous people will care. So when you look at me, you might think, ‘Oh, it would be great to be John because people care about him, and they care if he does well, and they care if something terrible happens, and they like him, and therefore he’s going to like himself, he’s going to feel good on the inside.’ It’s not any different, really – and I promise – than it ever was. Because the truth is that no one is ever going to acknowledge the reality of you as completely as you would like them to. Even if your breakups are on the cover of US Weekly, they won’t feel the pain that you feel as completely as you want them to. (Green)
Accruing physical things, gaining fame, notoriety, respect, etc will not satisfy these needs that so desperately require fulfilling. As John says, we may want to be in his position, as it seems much more desirable and better than our own situation, but no amount of recognition will ever fill that hole…we will never be entirely satisfied with what we have. When we realize this, when we, in the small way that we can, decide to keep this idea in the forefront of our minds and choose to think of things from this perspective, our view of the world will become much more optimistic, and, ideally, we will be more content with our position and surroundings. Recognizing that we are not alone in our aloneness is an important, vital step toward happiness.

Many times, we think in ‘if only’s: If only I could get that promotion, if only I had that car, I’d be completely happy with my life if I was in his position. This greed, this constant desire to obtain, will not be placated by obtaining. In an interview, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, said “[Greed] becomes sort of limitless, sort of bottomless, and that leads to trouble. One interesting thing about greed is that although the underlying motive is to seek satisfaction, the irony is that even after obtaining the object of your desire, you are still not satisfied. The true antidote of greed is contentment” (Cutler 968-969).

Being content with what we have and being comfortable with our lot in life is another factor in determining our happiness. These concepts are not new; the Greek philosopher Epictetus puts forth the proposition that life is like a banquet: “Is a dish brought to you? Put out your hand and take a moderate share. Does the dish pass you by? Do not grab for it. Has it not yet reached you? Don’t yearn for it, but wait until it reaches you” (964). It may sound too simple to be true, but do not be fooled into thinking that this constant mindset of complacency is not easy. It takes effort and an ever-present awareness of one’s position in relation to others to fully attain contentment.

No one will ever feel completely understood; we as humans are incapable of entirely inhabiting the mind of another, and while this is what makes each person unique and special, it can also be destructive. Failure to complexly imagine the other can lead to quick judgments, incorrect assumptions, and unnecessary pain. Accepting this fact, embracing it, and acting upon it is the most vital, necessary part of life. Many of John’s books center around this theme: the importance of imagining the other complexly, acknowledging that it is our duty to consider, to think, to analyze, to care about the world, and, as David Foster Wallace put it, “The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide how you’re going to try to see it” (94).

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