Imagine having to converse every single moment of every single day. To speak constantly, without a moment's rest. To be constantly assailed with words, never having a moment of silence. Sounds unbearable, but that is exactly how we operate - the words just come from within rather than falling on our ears from our vicinity. These words can feel louder than those blaring from a mic — our very own PA system, a relentless cacophony pestering us, admonishing us, not letting us rest.
We operate in this way and go about our daily tasks wearing a mask of confidence and serenity; pretending to know what we are doing. None of us are exempt from this pretense, from this act. The celebrity who struts on the stage to receive his award has the same insecurities you do; the wall street banker who took home a 7 figure bonus has the same kinks you do. Somehow, in our delusion, we think that since these people have attained greater heights than us, they must operate differently from us. Their minds must work differently. They must be more brilliant, more beautiful, their thoughts more streamlined, their resolve more steely, their focus as sharp as a razor’s edge. I suppose this feeling of dissociation is similar to what we must’ve felt as a child when looking up at our parents — not being able to imagine them as having been anything other than the know-it-all, confident grown-ups they were then.
We don’t even have to look towards our idols to see this dissociation in action. How much do we truly perceive about the people around us? You see, we are intimately aware of our own anxieties and fears, after all, we live with them day in and day out! But all that we know of the person sitting next to us is what he is willing to share, which is a very well curated — and rather short — list. The friend with the perpetual smirk on his face, who can’t stop with his sarcastic comments and witty retorts might be dealing with depression; the quiet, seemingly shy girl in the corner of the library might be the most content and confident individual you will ever come across; the lead researcher in your lab might be extremely self-absorbed, even if all of his research are for altruistic purposes. We think we know the people around us, but we don’t really. And, contrary to popular belief, sometimes even a person’s actions are not enough to discern his or her nature, let alone his words.
But then we live in a hyper-fast paced world, where we have to take quick decisions about people and circumstances. These decisions tend to be quick simply because we have so many options: We could either hang out with our friends or binge on Netflix at home, we can either meet colleague X or colleague Y, or fire up tinder and see if we can “score” a date. We could just show up at the airport and catch the next flight out, finding ourselves thousands of miles away with nothing but our toothbrush and our credit card — the only two items you seem to need these days (hell, if you forget your toothbrush, just ask the flight attendant!). We have unlimited options and thus our decisions seem less consequential.
Those of us who can resist this urge to judge quickly and move on will find ourselves with a stronger set of relationships anchoring us, relationships that will stand the test of time.
As for our aspirations, We may have to remind ourselves that the person before us, who has achieved everything we want to achieve, is not necessarily different from us or operating on another unreachable plane of existence. If we could look into their mind, we’d find the same ghosts that haunt us - the same irrational fears, frustrations, and anger; the same chinks in their armor. They have just learned to persevere and achieve despite these inner demons. They are not so different from you and I. We just refuse to accept the fact that we are, more or less, the same. Maybe because then … we’d honestly run out of excuses.
I suppose that is what Montaigne was trying to tell us, in his own singular way, when he quipped this memorable quote:
"Kings and philosophers shit—and so do ladies."
Michel De Montaigne