tell me a story of a stranger you see out in public.
I want to know all about their thoughts, motivations, and place in life.
I can guarantee that the way I approached this piece was completely different from what Miss Tuesday had in mind, but hey, that’s the point of the challenge. To see what people do with your ideas. When I first read this challenge I was immediately reminded of David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College Speech (Part 2) about attempting to change your perspectives in regards to tedium and other people. It was the basis of my response and I highly recommend you listen to it.
(Also, you can read Random Girl’s response to my challenge here.)
Here is a common philosophical examination in terms of the function of language; take the statement “The sky is blue.” Look out the window and you know the statement to be true (assuming it’s not overcast or raining or night or whatever, bare with me on this). But now, here is where the philosophical problems begin to arise: How do we know what blue is?
What I mean is is that we’re all raised with a concept of the color of ‘blue.’ As children we are taught that blue is the color of the sky and of the oceans and it’s one of the three primary colors, etc. etc. Someone points out that “this here is blue” and you simply say “okay, now I know to associate this color with the name of blue.” But now, here’s the problem: how can you know that ‘blue’ looks the same to you as it does to me? Isn’t it possible that when we both look up at the same sky and come to our obvious agreement that “yes the sky is indeed blue,” we are actually, the two of us, looking at two completely different colors? Maybe what you see as being ‘blue’ is the color that I normally associate with ‘red’ or whatever. Neither of us would be wrong, mind you, about the sky being ‘blue’, however, our visual interpretations of the concept of ‘blue’ could be different. How could we ever know, for sure, that when we both look up at the same sky we see the same thing?
I guarantee at least one person reading this has at these exact same thoughts at some point, probably while high.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that something everyone knows, deep down, but either can’t or won’t admit; that there is one, and exactly one perspective in which you can view the world and that is your own, because you can only see the world through your own eyes, your own version of ‘blue.’
A similar thought is the idea that if you are not looking at an object, how can you know that it exists?
We are, to ourselves, the complete and exact center of the Universe. Not in an egotistical way, or anything, I just mean that every event in which we are a part of takes place from our own perspective. Take some famous event, when you talk about it it is always from your point of view: “I was at work when JFK was assassinated” or “I was with my family when we landed on the Moon.” Or how about feelings? You can know for a fact that you are sad, happy, angry, horny, hungry or whatever, and you know how each of those feel to you. But you can never know how another human being feels. You can infer, of course, or guess. But even if you correctly deduce another persons current feelings, how can you know that that feeling is that same to them as it is to you? The sky is blue, after all.
It’s kind of sad, when you get into the nitty gritty and think about how alone you are. How impossible it can be to achieve true Empathy, to put yourself into someone’s shoes. Take this asshole who was behind me on the freeway the other day, on my way to work (see what I mean by having only one perspective, the cars are on the road while I’m on the way to work, around me). This asshole, in your typical fashion, was driving the most unnecessarily large pick-up truck. The kind of truck that looks so pristine that it’s obvious that the guy bought a gas guzzling truck for the sake of having a truck, rather than actually needing the flat bed for any decipherable reason. Anyways, the asshole is riding the back of my car because I’m not going fast enough, even though I’m already past the speed limit, flashing his lights at me and honking his fucking horn. Well, I wasn’t going to let him win, so I deliberately stayed in the same lane and slowed down about 5 mph. He passed me after about 7 miles, flipping me the bird, and I could then see him riding another car’s ass about 30 seconds later (he also had a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker, I noted, and I’m pretty sure he bought the truck after the last election). What an asshole, right?
From my universe, he’s a raging dickhead. But what about his universe?In that case I’m the dickhead. And you know what, his assessment is much more true. Because the truth of the matter is that he was driving his very pregnant wife to the hospital. Something was very very wrong with either the wife or the baby. She was in agonizing pain and bleeding a lot. The man in the truck was riding my ass because as far as he knew they could be in mortal danger, and waiting for an ambulance to get to their house would have wasted precious time.
Then there is me, intentionally slowing down and refusing to get out of the way. Did I fucking want his wife and unborn child to die, he was screaming at me. And finally, after about 7 agonizing miles, his wife screaming in pain and bleeding, he finally found an opportunity to get around the fuckwad trying to harm his family. Flipping the middle finger to the fuckwad was the least he could do.
After that there was this guy at work, who got into a screaming match with me when I wouldn’t except his coupon, because it wasn’t even a coupon that we accept. The guy screamed at me until he was red in the face, and finally left with his two kids in a huff. The truth is is that guy was divorced, and rarely got to spend time with his kids. He wanted to take them out for a day of fun, but fun tends to cost money and the alimony checks he had to keep sending were sucking him dry. He found some coupons and decided to use them, but the little shit at the counter refused to accept them. My god, the guy at the counter just kept rolling his eyes, while he was losing valuable time with his kids, whom he loved very much and wanted to be able to care for more than he was allowed to by the court of law.
And the REAL truth is that these situations were made up, by me. Not that these two situations didn’t happen to me the other day, but their backgrounds aren’t true. Nor are they false, for that matter. I have no way of knowing, how can I? But again, how can I be so sure that when people may become angry at me for reasons that seem totally stupid from my perspective, it isn’t totally reasonable and justified from their own?
The sky is blue, after all.