I came to two very personal realizations today. I strive to be as nice and kind as possible, yet I am weary of the kindness of others. I strive to be as open and social as possible, yet I am often too fatigued with other people’s baggage to the point where I miss out on meaningful person-to-person experiences.
I went to a fossil shop today. It was the same fossil shop I visited 10 years ago. Before marriage. Before kids. Before the density of life had increased exponentially. The last time I visited this store, I had no kids, a steady job, and an undeserved feeling of security and self-confidence. I could buy what I wanted because in 2 weeks, I would receive a pay-check that would replenish what I had just spent.
This time around, 9 years into marriage, 3 kids later, and with a career that could only be described as veering from the secure to the liberated, I visited this fossil shop as a new person. But the owner was the same. He remembered me, and I remembered him. He was as kind and passionate as I remembered.
The last time I visited, he fully appreciated that I was enamoured with rocks, minerals and fossils. It was not the kind of passion you could fake. I knew about the trilobites, ammonites, meteorites, the Green River formation… I knew my stuff in a way that only a high school nerd could know it. And this time around, my kid knew about this same stuff. The owner loved that we loved what he loved. And he wanted to show his appreciation for our mutual passion by giving us the best prices, and as many free goodies as a responsible business owner can give a passionate customer.
Yet while he did this, my suspicion radar started sounding. “Why was he being so nice to us”, I asked myself… “What does he want from us?”, I asked myself. And then I realized that I had become tainted by the experiences of my life. Experience, as I have always said, does not necessarily make us smarter. Sometimes experience traumatizes us to the point where we can no longer appreciate the good and the beauty in others.
Later that day, we were swimming in the pool – yes, we’re on vacation! 🙂 I was swimming with one kid on my back, surveilling the other as she doggy-paddled from one end of the pool to the other. We noticed a couple sitting in the pool. I thought I was bothering them with our collective noise, and was thusly somewhat standoff-ish, reluctant to make conversation. But the second we broke into conversation, what we had in common quickly dispelled whatever superficial ice I thought existed in the first place. I should add that the ice was entirely of my own creation, and existed nowhere but in my own head…
Yet again, after a few minutes of conversation, I had the same reflexes ringing in my mind’s ear: “Why are they talking to us”, I asked myself. “What do they want from us?”, I asked myself. But then, louder than anything else I asked myself, I thought “Have I lost my friggin’ mind? Have I become so tainted by our world that I have become suspicious of ordinary genuine discourse with fellow human beings?” And then I realized that without a doubt, I had.
10 years in law is a long time. Like a blackjack dealer at a Vegas casino, you become accustomed to interacting with only the dregs of society. People “down on their luck”. People stressed, unhappy, angry. People blaming everyone else for their life situation. People who are abrasive, abusive, exploitive, and above all else, tainted. And like the event horizon of a black hole, as you get closer to them, they suck you into their world faster and faster. So much so that when you venture out into the “real” world, you truly believe that all human interaction is like this. Now, maybe it is. And my point is not to run around trusting everyone with more than you can afford to lose. My revelation is only that people are not necessarily like this by default.
My spiritual healing is coming from realizing that while many people are tainted, most people are just as good and kind as I strive to be. And while you have to protect yourself as though they are all scoundrels, you have to be open to others as though you are them and they are you. Lest you walk through life shutting yourself out from potentially the most meaningful and fulfilling of all inter-human interactions.
The guy at the fossil shop, the couple in the pool – they were the meaningful human interactions everyone should have in life. Perhaps they are serial killers fronting as “normal” business owners and resort guests. And you should protect yourself from them as though they are. But if you systematically shut yourself out from them, you may only be depriving yourself of the most rewarding inter-human experiences life has to offer. Protect yourself from scoundrels, but make sure to keep yourself open to humans, lest you cease yourself being human.