Sparks of friendship and love

This week's dispatch features a wonderful essay from Lori on riding the waves of should.

As a teen, I devoured self-improvement articles. My love for learning and the promise of a new and better me was an irresistible combination. I didn’t have to search far to find what I was looking for: "Get the natural look with these 5 makeup tricks!" "10 tips for getting into top universities!"

The self-improvement habit stuck and the abundance of content exploded. Social media and the web joined with magazines and morning shows to provide a never-ending stream of advice. Experts tell us the dangerous foods we should eliminate from our diets, why we should make our beds every day, and how we should quit our jobs and start a business.

Should, should, should.

Somewhere I crossed a threshold. What once was an abundance of helpful recommendations now seems like an inescapable deluge of do’s and don’ts. AP actually added that phrase to their Style Guide recently.

The perpetual presence of advice doesn’t mean I need to pay attention to it, of course. It doesn’t have to make me feel like I’m falling short.

And yet... I get the sense I’m not alone in this. When people start sentences with, “I know everyone says you shouldn’t do this, but…”or “I really need to start…" I wonder if they are feeling the burden of should, too.

It’s an amazing time we live in. Growth opportunities proliferate at our fingertips: free lectures, courses, articles and apps, all created to leave us in a different (and hopefully better) place than we began. But right now, the opportunities come with such force and noise and speed that they feel more like a flooding river than a refreshing stream.

When I come untethered from the fact that I’m known and loved just as I am, I seek out the people and moments that remind me. Answering the phone, even though it’s a crazy day. Resisting the pull of home to make plans a priority. Taking a minute after a text instead of rushing on to the next thing, feeling grateful for the relationship behind that encounter. They’re so easy to miss, these sparks of friendship and love. But for me, they bring sustenance to my soul.

Instead of voices telling me to do more and be more, I want to hear the voices that call me back to who I am. — Lori

Prompted

The latest dispatch asked, What do you wish people would ask you, but no one ever does?

Rok wrote:

I wish someone would ask me to play them some polka on accordion :)

Kyle wrote:

I've been lucky enough to be able to live my life with a certain kind of confidence. So I've never been asked what it's like to be afraid. But one of the most poignant moments in my life is a moment that can only be described as absolute panic, felt simultaneously by several dozens of people all in the same room, all at the same time—a feeling not so much felt as it is thrust upon you.

Grant wrote:

Only to be asked by people really close to you, but: "What's on your mind?"

Radhika wrote:

Why I write songs ;) Instead, I'm typically asked how young I was when I started writing, did I take lessons, how much I earn (yes, some people really do ask that), and whether my band is famous. I feel they're kind of missing the point... And fielding those sorts of questions depletes the nutrients in my brain for sure.

Nick wrote:

This question fascinates me. After mulling it over for the past few days, I guess it would be, "What is like to be able to hear?" But asked by a deaf person. The twist is that I'm deaf as well, but technically in a medical view, I'm hard-of-hearing (hoh). I lost a huge part of my hearing ability at age three so I was placed in a deaf program early on, adopted sign language as a primary language, and grew up in deaf community. Thus identifying myself as Deaf. My mind and experience was conditioned and nurtured by deaf culture; however, with a hearing aid in one ear, the technology amplified my hearing ability. It was enough for me to learn and play piano and guitar decently (my parents thought if Beethoven could play music, I could too), listen to music extensively, and communicate orally with very little difficulty. It was just enough that hearing people would not deem I was deaf at first glance.

What's interesting is that when I tell hearing people that I'm deaf/hoh, they would ask, "What is it like to have hearing loss?" which I'd then sprout out some kind of answer. But never a deaf person would ask me, "What is like to hear?" My friends who are deaf know I play and listen to music and can speak well, but they don't think strange of me. In the first group, I believe, see the loss of hearing as something that'd detract quality from their life while the second group see the "gain" of hearing as moot because they're so in love in viewing, interpreting, and perceiving the world visually and through sensory process (deaf people enjoy touching). These are which hearing people does take for granted.

Returning to the question, "What is like to hear?" Honestly, I don't know how to answer it. But I'll explore more on it. Sorry for copping out. :)

Lara wrote:

I think the reason I love Uncommon so much is that it consistently asks the questions I wish people would ask but rarely do. I can't tell you how much I loathe the "What do you do?" question when meeting new people. I know that it exists as an easy way to get familiar with unfamiliar people, and granted for a lot of people work is such a big chunk of their life that it is the easiest way to find a point of commonality, but still I get tense with anticipation of hearing that. How can you possibly answer it so that it actually tells your new acquaintance something real about yourself? I just find it inevitably leads to justifying what people pay you for, talking about a job you don't like, or having to explain in detail what your day to day life looks like.

The questions I like are the ones that take us out of the mundane every day stuff. I've taken to asking people variations of "what are you about?", "what's occupying your mind or got you fired up this week?", "what was the best part of your day today?". My intention is to give people an opportunity to share something they're passionate about - to share a challenge or a moment of joy with me. Once people get over the initial discomfort - "what do you mean?" - giving them permission to talk about something that fills them up leads to such great conversations. That's where the good stuff is.

Ryan wrote:

“Tell me how this book made you feel.” I only know a few people who like the sort of fictional works I like, and not all of them have much capacity for analysis. The ones who do are more likely to talk about themes and character—that is, what the book is trying to say about life and the human condition, or religion, or politics, or love. These are certainly worthwhile subjects for discussion. But to me, the point of art, including art in the medium of the written word, is to make the audience feel something, and the best fiction books evoke strong feelings. Every time I finish a great novel, I look around for someone who will join me in analyzing how it achieves its emotional content and impact, but I all too frequently strike out.

Uncommon reads

Rewilding our language of landscape by Robert Macfarlane:

Yet it is clear that we increasingly make do with an impoverished language for landscape. A place literacy is leaving us. A language in common, a language of the commons, is declining. Nuance is evaporating from everyday usage, burned off by capital and apathy. The substitutions made in the Oxford Junior Dictionary – the outdoor and the natural being displaced by the indoor and the virtual – are a small but significant symptom of the simulated screen life many of us live.

[...] It matters because language deficit leads to attention deficit. As we deplete our ability to denote and figure particular aspects of our places, so our competence for understanding and imagining possible relationships with non-human nature is correspondingly depleted.

Sorry confusion by Seth Godin:

"I see you," is what we crave.

Your turn

What advice are you glad you didn't follow?