“Yesterday I was watching an episode of Medium that shook something loose from my memory, something I hadn’t thought about in years. Ariel Dubois, the protagonist’s eldest daughter, was using her nascent psychic abilities at a slumber party, telling her friends’ fortunes. She drew a card for each girl in turn and revealed to each a piece of their future. One girl would get a phone call from a boy she liked. Another would sprain her ankle. As the scene progressed I got a clear picture of myself sitting on the bus in middle school during a choir trip, impressing a small crowd with my cold reading abilities. I had no idea what cold reading was, but I did know how to tell people things they believed about themselves based on educated guesses and speculation. Most of what I divined was the product of unremarkable deduction and the interpretation of body language, but to those gathered around me I was coaxing things out of them, reading them like clouds or tea leaves.
As I got older I started to selectively mute my perception to ignore certain things about other people. I had some idea it was rude, or cheating, or an invasion of someone else’s privacy to quietly spool out ticker tape about other people’s motives and thoughts. Reading another person made it hard to avoid being wounded when someone else’s pain was throbbing out of them or being insulted when they lied or tried to conceal things from me. It was easier, much easier to take people at face value rather than assuming subterfuge. The more I turned down the volume on these insights the more I sacrificed the earlier intimacy I’d experienced of seeing other people and loving them, whatever I found. No matter how priggish or rude they might appear, every human being has a twang of sadness within them that you cannot help but empathize with. A part of them hums at the same low, mournful frequency as your own and no matter how hard you try, the center of you calls out to them. Resonance isn’t a choice, it is a feeling.
Once you blunt yourself to it you can be sociable. You can interact with others on their level, without the remove that comes from piercing another’s public face. You don’t have to fall down an elevator shaft every time someone tells a joke that doesn’t land or reveals too much of themselves with an averted gaze. You can ignore other people’s feelings. Pretend you are fundamentally different from them. You can hate them, down to the core of who they are. You can love their public face and attempt to emulate it. But you lose something important when this happens, for all that you gain.
I pay a lot of mental lip service to other people’s humanity in my private thoughts, when I’m panning through the events of the day and the interactions I’ve had. I “know” that every life is triumph and success, rage and exultation, longing and mystery, but it is something I have not known for a long while. I certainly haven’t acted like it. I’ve been petty and used my perception and sensitivities to try to win a game that is won by the clear, unclouded recognition of other people’s beautiful, precious imperfection. I have been working twice as hard to lose, essentially.
I’d like to cleave away from that. I cannot help but understand and love the young man who felt it necessary to sacrifice things about himself to meet people on even ground, but here, at the edge of youth, I can see that I’ll never meet anyone any other way. I cannot elevate or degrade myself over or below anyone else, I can only act like a fool by thinking of other people in those terms. I came into this discussion to win, to strike a definitive blow for me and against other people, and came out with a sense of smiling shame about the way I approached the whole business. Perhaps you’ll feel aggrieved until the last, perhaps we’ll be friends one day. Forgive me for any mantle of wisdom I seem to be assuming — I confess learning that it has taken me a decade and a half to remember something I knew as a child doesn’t feel like a triumph. Nor a failure. Simply a circular progression, something that had to be lived to be understood.
If there’s anything you’d like to say, to express, to deliver to me I am listening. My only unbreakable rule from this point forward is that I’d like to purge as much hatred as I can from my life. As an emotion it is pointless, as a sign of power it is laughable. It burns everything it touches. It cannot be wielded against someone else without a price that far outstrips its might. It can be understood but never tamed and I’d like to move away from it. Without superiority or faux enlightenment, but with a surfeit of humility. With love.
There is no other way.”
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