I missed yet another Throwback Thursday post because I was baking and cooking last night, so here’s another Flashback Friday post, originally from November 29th 2011.
Warning: I be moderately philosophical here.
For those of you don’t know, there’s an online community, formed around a certain Youtube channel, that I identify with: Nerdfighters. Not religiously, but I keep up with the main videos and read some of the tumblr posts. For basic info, see here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerdfighters#Brotherhood_2.0_project, but for the purposes of this post, the important thing to know is that Nerdfighter philosophy believes that there are two ways to make the world better:
1) Increase World Awesome
2) Decrease World Suck.
To clarify, “increasing World Awesome” means what it sounds like: increasing the amount of awesome stuff in the world. This can include anything from rocket ships to fantastic TV shows to elaborate Lego castles to settling down and having children. That’s how many people make life worth living — by creating new and beautiful things that weren’t there before.
On the flipside, we have “decreasing World Suck,” which is also just what it sounds like. This is the idea of finding the line against the darkness and holding it there, or trying to push it back. Homelessness, joblessness, bigotry . . . These things suck, and life is more worth living when people work to make them suck a little less.
Basically, as drunk Blaine Anderson said, increasing World Awesome and decreasing World Suck amount to: “Make art and help people!”
What I’ve been thinking recently is that some people have a greater inclination toward one than the other. Or at least, in some areas.
Take me, for instance. I’m a writer. I’m not a crusader, I don’t go to rallies, I’m incredibly ignorant of most politics. Writing is creation of something new and beautiful. I create stories and characters and situations, and I try to be proud of everything that I write, because it’s my most tangible contribution to the world. I should be easily categorized as someone who wants to increase World Awesome.
But in almost every other area of my life, it’s more important to me to decrease World Suck than to increase World Awesome. I want to help people. It’s not something I want to do professionally. I’ve never been interested in becoming a doctor or a psychologist or a social worker. But when I’m put in a position to help, I really want to make things better.
A friend of mine refers to this tendency—sometimes affectionately, usually exasperatedly—as “being a fixer.” I think of it as “being a problem-solver.” But even that’s too strong. I don’t expect to solve problems, to fix, or to cure. It’s not a savior complex; it’s a helper complex. Most problems are much too big for me to solve. So I have a choice. I can hide away and do nothing, or I can help in whatever limited way I can.
Let me tell you a story. Because that’s what I do.
It’s a story about me. And someone else.
I was about ten or twelve years old. It was a Saturday afternoon. My family had finished our big Shabbos lunch, and most of our guests had gone home. We have lots of guests every week, generally; in addition to hosting people we like, a rabbi’s house and table tend to be magnets for lost souls.
That day, one of those lost souls did not go home when the meal ended. He didn’t go home when the rabbi bid him adieu and went to take a nap. He didn’t go home even when there was no one left in the living room aside from ten-year-old me, curled up on the recliner with a book.
Instead, he sat down across the room on the couch. At almost regular intervals, he’d heave heavy sighs. Or stretch. But still made no move to leave.
(Before anyone gets worried, it’s not like my parents left me alone with a dangerous stranger. My family had known him for years, and he’s about as harmless as they come. One of the so-depressed-he-probably-wouldn’t-have-the-energy-to-throw-himself-off-a-building type of guys. Mid-thirties, unmarried and unhappy about it and plenty of other things. That probably doesn’t sound very reassuring. Sorry.)
I must have looked up from my book after a while. I must have asked a leading question, probably one of the classics: “Is something wrong?” or “Are you okay?”
Because what I vividly remember happening that afternoon was this: A grown-up poured out his grown-up problems to me as if I could understand them. He told me about a falling-out he’d had with friends, about his constant loneliness, about his fear that even the people who like him the most don’t really like him. He highlighted incidents, tried to analyze them, and asked if I thought he was making sense.
I remember sitting there and being very acutely aware that this was not the kind of stuff you’re supposed to talk about with little kids. He said, a few times, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you this . . .” I silently agreed with him, but the rabbi was sleeping, and a therapist costs money, and the rabbi’s ten-year-old daughter was the only one willing to listen. So I listened, and listened, and maintained eye contact, and nodded when he asked if I understood, because I did. And when he finished, he went home.
I don’t have any illusions that I fixed anything that day. These days, he’s in his mid-forties, still unmarried, still unhappy. But he did go home that day.
Sometimes, that’s the best anyone can do: be a listening ear, a patient, non-threatening presence. Make the current moment a bit more bearable for the person who’s got more suck in their life right now than you do. I’ve somehow cultivated that presence. People tend to feel comfortable telling me things. I’m not a people-pleaser, but I’m not a people-hurter, either. I want and like to help, and I respect that about myself, naïve and idealistic as it may be.
And then there are other areas where I want to do more. There aren’t that many, and you’ve probably all seen various things I’ve posted about homelessness and LGBT rights; those are two causes that have inexplicably resonated with me when nothing else does.
I also want to adopt, if I ever feel like raising kids. I’ve never felt any longing to have kids of my own — the pull of the World Awesome increase of creating a kid is so strongly outweighed in my mind by the possibility of the World Suck decrease of taking in one that’s already here. Obviously, no objective measure I could use would confirm this, but that’s how it balances on my internal scale.
Most, if not all, of us have our instincts for creation, for increasing World Awesome, and most if not all of us have them for justice, for decreasing World Suck.
Where do you fall in the spectrum? What do you create, and what do you fight for or against?
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