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Years since high school: 7

Posted by Eli Horowitz on Tuesday, March 09, 2010
Christ.

No, don't get me wrong - seven years seems like the absolute minimum amount of time it's been. Especially when you figure that I've got about six more of these seven-year periods left before I hit the average lifespan, it's hard to look at it all at once. And since I was ebriated* for practically the whole time - a rarity among my friends and acquaintances - it's hard to distill all seven of those years into "one life lesson that sticks out that I've learned since I graduated from high school." But fuck it, right? What's the worst that could happen.
*This is the positive form of "inebriated," is it not?

After much (okay, the bare minimum of) thought, I've decided that this is my life lesson:
If someone isn't listening, just give up on talking.
As with all life lessons and similar pieces of patched-together folk wisdom, do not try to apply this at all times or in all situations. Like, if you're talking to your doctor and somebody else runs up with an emergency, don't take that as a sign that you should find a new doctor (or, worse, abandon real medicine for homeopathy or Christian scientism). Okay? So don't sue me or my sometime hosts because you took my life lesson too literally.

Here's the thing, though: most everyone you'll meet is going to have working aural mechanisms** and interpretive linguistic faculties to match. Further, most of that high-functioning group will also know certain basics about how to think and relate to other people - logic, open-mindedness, deference to evidence, empathy, that sort of thing. They might not always use these basics, but even Michael Jordan screwed up now and then.*** Still, doesn't it seem like people should be reasonable? Doesn't it seem like they should be helpful, forthright, giving of themselves, and sensitive to others' needs? How, in short, can a rational, open-minded, evidence-respecting, empathic person not display a certain level of kindness?
**If those words are too big for you, substitute "ears."
***Another, related life lesson: playing baseball is always a misstep.

Damned if I know. But we manage somehow.

People, it bears repeating, are in general stupid, ill-mannered, lazy, and deceptive; put Hobbes and Sartre together and you'll get it about right: hell is having to deal with other people's nasty and brutish lives. Worse yet, other people are necessary. They're the ones who hire us and sign our checks, who farm our food, who build large cubes for us to sit in so that we don't freeze to death or get trampled to death by an irate ibex - fill in your own Fight Club-esque monologue here. Combined with how insufferable they can be, this reliance on people leads to a frustrating quandary: do you keep trying to get what/need you want from people who couldn't care less or do you settle for whatever they'll give you?

The line, tragically, is not nearly clear enough for me to define it - not with words, not with actions, probably not even if you and I shared a psychic link. But I know this much for sure: the returns diminish very quickly when you look to other people. (See, as a particularly brutal but well-formed example of this, the excellent A Serious Man.) The shades of this phenomenon are myriad and not worth discussing; you'll know it when you see it. And no, I'm not going to say that the answer is always "in you" the whole time or that it's all a matter of luck: the former is plainly a lie and the latter makes morality a joke. All I can say is that it's not your fault when the people around you are unwilling or incapable and that it's foolhardy to continue using a crutch that you know has rusted through. Fall if you have to fall, and don't throw good words after bad trying to purchase a service that was never for sale.

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