This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on January 1, 2016.
On 31st December, 2015 — also known as last week Thursday — I joined the billions of people who sacrifice sleep every December to make sure that we make it safe into January. You’d think by now we’d trust the new year to start when it’s supposed to, but no. We show more alertness for this than we do on Election Night.
Anyway. Exactly one second after midnight on 31st December, the New Year tried to slip in quietly. But we were ready. We sent the alarm, aided by screaming explosions of colour (because on New Year, even warning shots are funky). The juvenile year was apprehended and briskly wrestled to the ground. This event was well documented with selfies, followed by much mutual congratulation on achieving this great feat again. Then we rounded everything off by assuring God and our friends and our diaries that this year will be different.
This year will be different. There’s elections this year in my country and in the US, so that will be fun. Sensible people will vote for the man, while the sheeple get swayed by the hype. Nobody tells me how voting for a single individual instead of a proven team of experts is better than any other illusion, so I’ll observe from afar with a worldly-wise air of cynical detachment — as a sensible millennial should. (Apparently I occasionally qualify as a millennial. The thought makes me giddy with belongingness.) That’s the headline, of course. The fact that so many of our celebrated startups aren’t actually working to create value, so many of our graduates aren’t thinking to create change, or that our service providers aren’t putting the people first — that gets relegated to ‘Other News’. Because if we can just get Mahama out of office and keep Trump’s wig out of the White House, it won’t matter that the earth is running out of oil and water and patience.
This year is going to be a tough one, I think. Everybody seems very optimistic that it’s all going to be beautiful, but there’s a scratchy little terror under my shirt which says 2015 would have been a good year to build that Doomsday bunker. I know — I’m usually pessimistic, and I’m often wrong. I hope I am. I hope somehow we break this trend of ever stronger systems covering for ever weaker people.
Anyway. Everybody has a plan for the year. I had a plan last year. It didn’t go very far. So this year I’ll be banking on humility. Life became much simpler when I realized that when we call people ‘intelligent’, most of the time we mean ‘observant’. When you finally sit down and start paying attention, you find out that everybody has been shouting out advice the whole time. They are usually red in the face at the time, and so we go red in the face too and say Well, you’re no saint yourself! or something equally mediocre. Or worse, they say it with a chuckle and we chuckle right back and assume it was a joke. Both our friends and our enemies could help us become better, if we’d only listen. Even when they give up on us, their silence and apathy still screams.
Here’s some of the things that have been shouted at me recently.
Tip: For a talkative, the first revelation is realizing that people mind. The final breakthrough — and the most important one — is that people mind even when you are being interesting. Too much talk is too much talk, even if you are a cross between Chris Rock, Albert Einstein and Sting.
Tip: For an introvert, people invest effort into touching you. When you rebuff them, they feel cheated. A lot of communication is proactive; people don’t wait for you to be nice so they know it’s okay to be nice to you back. It may sound as ridiculous as old-school warfare, but closeted people expect formal proceedings. But closeted isn’t regular, or healthy. Stop owning that nonsense, just because there are sympathetic memes about it now.
Tip: You can’t snipe a friend or loved one into changing, or gossip them out of their hole. You can be real with them, but only if you care about them fixing more than you care about getting it off your chest. If you lose sight of this they’ll resent you, and the purpose will be defeated. If it’s not working, find another way.
Tip: You shouldn’t gossip with friends and loved ones. We do this a lot. In fact, we almost always gossip exclusively with those close to us. It’s sick because it means the people who we like the best are the people we share our worst side with. This world is a mean and dark source of lovely bile and beautiful shade. We pay critics and judges and pundits to dominate our media and tell us in the most beautifully crafted dialogue why something is bad, and we absorb a lot of that mood. Gossip is vile these days, and when your friend laughs and tells you ‘You’re just awful!’ take it personally, and stop. Stop being Simon. Even Simon probably isn’t Simon at home.
Tip: Anger is the single most useless force on the planet. Everybody says it: you don’t win, violence wins. I used to say it too. Then a dog shouted it at me, ripping my best (read: only) dress trousers in the process. If you frame the conversation in terms of violence or volume, you only win for now. They’ll be back, with motivation.
Tip: You are not a genius. A real genius should make problems go away, and we have more useful names for such a person now. Genius is a dead-end bit of flattery that people use absent-mindedly, because it’s easier than tallying up the dedication and self-improvement it takes to become good at anything.
Tip: Say ‘I’m sorry’. We are often sorry, but we don’t say so because we don’t want the weight. Even if the thing isn’t your fault, it’s bad. Everybody wishes it hadn’t happened. Everybody is sorry. Say it.
Tip: Stop repeating promises. If you get it done, you won’t have to talk about it. If you’re talking about it, you’re wasting doing time. Don’t say sorry if you aren’t ready to work next time to make sure it doesn’t happen again. God hates that, friends hate that, and your mother will one day smother you with a pillow.
Tip: Stop with the catchphrases and the rhetoric. For a while, all us conscious people started declaring ourselves ‘spiritual, not religious’. Thing is, if your spirit compels you more than your worldly needs, you’re going to look pretty religious, aren’t you? We went overboard with the ‘look deeper’ concept. How hard should people have to dig through our mess to find the good intentions? If you’re not doing the work, stop talking about how people ‘just assume’ you are lazy. It gets to a point where all the data leads to a conclusion. If you are really that smart, or that enlightened, or that helpful, it will show.
Tip: It can happen to you, and you’ll probably not die.
Tip: If it’s a good thing it needs to happen, and would it kill you to try?
I don’t know if people believe me when I say I write for myself. After all, two out three bloggers say the same thing. We are a wimpy, wormish lot, truth be told. Anyway. I think these hints are useful to just about everybody, because we are painfully unoriginal when it comes to the important things we leave undone. That’s why I didn’t use the first person that much. Let’s all be better this year, okay? Put the 20-year plans down and build a life.
P.S: These ones are things I feel like shouting at the world.
Tip: Cool it with the laughing at people. I often fall out of touch with social media, and when I come back it frightens me. We’ve gotten very very mean. There’s so much killer content out there from very funny artists — amazing stories getting told in 10 seconds — but we seem to prefer laughing at people who didn’t ask to be made fun of. It is damaging our spirits.
Tip: Children are getting messed up. True, video games will probably not make them kill anybody. Is it feeding the best in them though? We’ve gone so primal. Cartoons were always nonsensically violent, but now the characters don’t even talk at normal volume. Really the whole of human civilization has been one big miracle. Because if it took good parenting to make good kids, we wouldn’t have gotten past the Stone Age. Still, make an effort. Your kid doesn’t want your phone or that toy. They want contact. They don’t want a homeboy, they want a role model. When you jump to share your love for porn or drugs or explicit entertainment, you’re not parent of the year. Nobody is. We’re all lucky to get off with minor scars or petty ignorance. And don’t be so fast to think it’s not your fault. If looking at your kid hurts, it’s probably because they picked up your worst habits. Talk to them for real and say you’re sorry for the mess, and help them be wise. Help them be better than you — because, frankly, we stink.
I know. Sorry. You have this figured out. I wish you peace and clarity. Make this a happy year for somebody.