A friend recently posted an article on Facebook that struck a chord. In it, the author talks about a problem with American politics but her point is applicable to basically any issue anywhere. The title, "I Don't Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People", kind of says it all. But you should read it anyway!
However, if you're not going to, I think these few lines cover the crux of the issue:
"I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy... I cannot have political debates with these people. Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters."
The question raised in the last line - what does it mean to live in a society, be a good person, and why does it matter? - is forever fascinating to me. One of the reasons I started The Kin Project was to attempt to find an answer to it.
I do realise that writing that makes me sound like one of those pretentious university students sipping terrible coffee at 1am while discussing Nietzsche. Hold on a sec while I extend my pinky finger. However, I'm quite comfortable up here on my soapbox right now, so I'm going to continue.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who's sick of seeing people treating themselves, each other, and the planet so badly. Teaching my two and four year old how to be good humans makes me even more aware of how shitty a lot of us are at it. We're just careless, disconnected and greedy.
Wow, I really don't know how that image got there... Farage, Trump and Le Pen just magically appeared as I typed the words "careless, disconnected and greedy." So odd.
Anyway, I think our greed extends to happiness. I don't know when our goal in life shifted from "being a good person" to "being happy", but it seems that everyone's hell-bent on getting themselves some of this happiness stuff. I just looked on Amazon and they currently have over 25,000 books available in the 'Self-Help: Happiness' section. But sometimes, in chasing happiness, we seem to forget that whole "good person" thing. I'm pretty sure we're shooting ourselves in the foot when we do so.
This past weekend, I went back to Luxembourg for an old friend's hen do. This naturally entailed staying up far too late and having the kind of "profound" discussions that seem to only happen at 4am. (Everyone should watch that Ted Talk all the way to the end...it's one of the most romantic things I've ever listened to.) It was during one of these witching hour chats that a friend asked me if I were happy.
It's only very recently that I realised I am happy. I can think of many, many things to blame for my current state of happiness but those are best left for another 4am discussion. The short answer that I gave my friend was that "my kids make me happy." I know! Mother Of The Year right here, right?!
I wasn't just being a total sap - my kids DO make me happy. That's because the wonderful irony of personal happiness is that one of the surest ways to achieve it is to put the happiness of others first. Having kids forced me to put their happiness way above mine. I didn't have a choice - those little buggers made me do it. The same with The Kin Project - attempting to address in some small way the giant problems the world faces makes my own petty problems look ridiculous in comparison.
However, while obviously it's nice to be happy right now, it's not an end goal. For one, it's fleeting - my current happiness would dissipate immediately should someone I love get seriously ill or hurt. And, secondly, it feels like I'd be missing the whole point of life. I have no idea what the whole point of life is, though. Sorry.
SO... drumroll, please, as I finally get around to making a point. The piece that sparked this post is "I Don't Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People." If you're having an argument, as the author of this piece did, with people who are miserably failing to conjure up any empathy for others, it's best to appeal to their personal interests. That's all they care about (see: Trump, Farage, Le Pen, et al.) For these people, the only way they will care about others is if there's something in it for them, too. And, oddly enough, there is. The reason someone lacking in empathy should still care about others, the reason that took me a gajillion paragraphs to get around to saying is, "because you won't be happy until you do so."
The very selfish quest for personal happiness is a bit like a dog chasing its tail. Trying to be a good person is a far more satisfying pursuit. In some beautiful twist, it also appears that the best way to be happy is as a side effect of trying to make others happy.
Oh, FFS. I've written all that philosophical blather and now I've just seen a snapchat of my youngest brother and sister crammed into a truck with a bunch of friends on their way to celebrate the 4th of July at the beach... they looked pretty happy, guys.
So two options here on the path to achieving happiness!
1: Try to be a good person
2. Be in your early 20s and on your way to a party
I'm far closer to 40 than 20.