Ok, so I’m back in Calgary, chillin’ in my comfortable basement-suite-for-two and feeling contemplative. It seems like a good time to get the blog going again. Actually, I’ve been meaning to do this for a while…
Last month a good friend gave me some much-needed critical feedback on the post I wrote about “Hope“. Re-reading that post after a few weeks of being home, I have to admit that I was being pretty melodramatic. To do Harrison’s feedback justice, I’m going to revisit the subject in two ways: 1) I will try to restate the core idea of “Hope” in a more direct, less patronising way, and 2) I’ll address my tendency to attach too much “meaning” to relatively insignificant events.
1) “Hope” in a nutshell
Feelings of hope and desperation can be pretty tightly linked. Feeling desperate sucks. I feel desperate sometimes. I imagine that poor people feel desperate sometimes too. We’re all human and we all share human emotions. Let’s try to treat our fellow beings with fairness and empathy. You never know when you might end up in a situation that makes you feel the same way.
(Yup, that’s right… I pretty much just threw the Golden Rule at you, and tried to pass it off as an original idea).
2) How much meaning can be found in a single experience (without being over-the-top)?
Harrison: “So I guess my criticism would be the tendency to make a larger point out of one’s own experiences…and I think basically everyone does this to some extent. But I feel like the JF program may be accentuating it. e.g. you are meant to find “meaning” in most of what you do, have to apply your experiences to broader concepts, etc.”
Fair point. This is actually a criticism that comes up quite frequently when people discuss contradictions embedded in JF/EWB culture. Aggrandizing small experiences may feel good for our egos and look good in writing, but it doesn’t line up very well with EWB’s value of striving for humility.
I know that the expectations associated with the JF program did lead me to attach more meaning to my experiences than I normally would have done. I took an image of a man on a motorcycle chewing his rosary, and wrote a 1400 word, “deep” blog post. There is an entire page in my journal dedicated to my first encounter with a latrine. Hannah, Ellen and I had prolonged conversations about the implications of eating (and enjoying) Western food, in terms of international development and having an authentic international experience. Noticing other people, going pee, and eating food; it’s all pretty mundane stuff, and I found a lot more meaning in those events than was strictly necessary.
However, I do not think that this tendency was always a negative thing. I learned a lot from pushing myself to find more meaning in daily life. In some senses, making meaning out of meaningless things is one of the most fascinating things that we human beings do. You have to admit, some neat ideas have come from relatively unremarkable experiences. Archimedes ran naked through the streets of Syracuse exclaiming ‘Eureka!’ because the level of his bath water rose when he stepped in the tub. Jean-Paul Sartre started “The Problem of Nothingness” with something even simpler; he put his hand in his pocket expecting to find 1500 francs, but in reality he found only 1300 francs and encountered Nothingness. Tiny occurrences can inspire powerful thoughts.
So what’s the difference between a profound, insightful thought and an over-the-top blog post that makes friends cringe? I think it’s kinda like laughter or saying “I love you”… if you have to force it to work, then you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
I’m sorry for forcing more “meaning” into my experience than I should have. It was inauthentic and I hope that I have not offended anyone who has actually lived in poverty. I will probably still over-think my insignificant life experiences, but I’ll try to be more mindful of how other people might perceive my ramblings.
Have a good weekend, everybody 🙂