Thursday, 29 September 2016

It’s The Simpatico, Not The People

Ed Latimore has a really good post in the "34 lessons I've learned from X" genre. It's well worth reading. I’d like to riff on this item:
People are the most important thing. No matter how much money you make or how good a time you are having, if you don’t have people you like to share it with then it really is meaningless. It is a special kind of torture to be around people but not really feel connected with them.
This is two unrelated points. Second one first.

It surely is a special kind of torture to be around people but not really feel connected with them. If you feel you should be connecting with them because you want to be one of that gang or because they seem to be having a great time. Otherwise you're just stuck with a bunch of people with whom you are not simpatico and being stuck with people like that is another special kind of torture.

As to the first point, there are some activities that don't make a lot of sense done on one's own. Playing (but not watching) any team sport, or playing in string quartets or other bands. Some things kinda necessarily involve people. Almost every other activity can be done alone, and the better practitioners often prefer to go solo. Ed Latimore isn’t talking about that though. He’s talking about “sharing experiences”.

“Sharing” experiences is a problematic idea. Consider a Cy Twombley painting, The School of Athens

Most people would see a series of meaningless scribbles. Over the years I’ve read a book on him, seen the exhibitions that came to the Tate and the Serpentine gallery, and it makes a little more sense to me, but there are people who can explain why it’s a great painting. Don’t even ask how much that would fetch at auction. Looking at a Twombley is not a shareable experience unless the on-lookers have very similar backgrounds in culture and education. What Ed Latimore is talking about is sharing-experiences-with-someone-a-lot-like-you, and I’m thinking that the real value there isn’t so much the experience as the being-with-someone-you-know-is-a-lot-like-you.

The older we get, the fewer people are like-us: we acquire a bunch of life events and experiences each one of which is shared by others, but very few people (very few = maybe two other people in the UK) has the combination, and it’s the combination that makes us who we are.

One of the skills a single person must learn to the point of reflex is being able to enjoy themselves on thier own: eat at the bar alone, read in the cafe alone, snooze on the beach alone, go to movies and galleries alone. Once he learns to appreciate cultural objects on his own, it seems strange having another person there. How do they add to his appreciation of the painting / movie / scenery / food/ whatever? Unless they are pretty damn special, they usually detract from it. He has to deal with their comments, boredom and need for attention.

There are people, of whom I am one, who have learned to treat the world as a giant art-exhibition-cum-obstacle-course. The obstacle course consists of finding and keeping jobs, clients, somewhere to live, something to eat, stuff to keep us warm, taxes, laws, regulations, HR policies, parking zones, and all that logistical / economic jazz. The art exhibition is everything else. It's there to be looked at, interacted with if it's one of those performance art or installation things, and otherwise appreciated and moved on from. People are both obstacle course and art-object. Then there are a handful of people who are actually people, becuase I have a history with them and they understand what I'm saying.

There's one little change I'd make to this piece of advice: Simpatico people are the most important thing. If you can't find those - and there is no guarantee you will, for many reasons - then learning to appreciate stuff without people to share it with is the next most important thing.

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