Are you living your life, or just story telling?
Ok, so I’m sitting in a café writing this, and outside on the street is some hobo looking fellow on a bench.
Just to be clear, this isn’t one of these blogs where I talk about how sensitive and enlightened I am because I take the time to connect with one of society’s outsiders and then, in return, learn a valuable lesson about the true meaning of life and happiness.
No. Screw that hobo. I hate that guy.
And I don’t hate him because he smells, or isn’t wearing the right clothes (or even clean clothes). I don’t hate him because he doesn’t have a job, or is living outside the box.
I don’t care about any of that stuff. I’m an open minded kind of guy.
I hate that particular hobo because he’s always making a dick of himself. He gets in people’s faces, he has these over-the-top stories about being ex-SAS, or CIA. He tells gags that only he gets and then laughs and laughs. He hassles the pretty ladies…
And look, I get where that probably comes from. There’s probably some sort of drug abuse story there. Mental illness looks like it’s a factor. That probably goes back to some trauma he experienced earlier in life.
I totally get that his back story is probably tragic.
So I’m not judging him. I’m not drawing any conclusions about his fundamental worth as a human being.
That said, I still don’t want to participate in his bullshit.
I’ve had a chat to him. He said g’day and I’m a friendly guy. I like a chat. So I sat with him and had a conversation one time.
But it wasn’t a conversation. It was a one-way street. I just got a download of stuff that even at a brief glance was obviously fantasy.
Ex-SAS, certified genius, wanted by the government, millions in an offshore account….
It felt like he was constructing some sort of theatre show, and he was trying to pull me into it as some sort of supporting character.
And the sole purpose of that theatre show was to let him live out the fantasy of being popular, admired, successful…
It was exhausting.
Ok, maybe I’m cringing here because there’s a reflection. In my teenage years I had the same insecurities as everyone else. I was full of braggadocio and bluff. I told a few tall tales in my time.
(I think I once told a girl at a club I was ex-SAS…)
In a way, who hasn’t?
Most of our modern consumer culture is geared around pretending to be people we’re not. This watch says I’m successful. These shoes say that I’m athletic. This bespoke vegan beard oil says that I value authenticity and that I’m too independent to be seduced by the plastic-y trappings of the modern world.
(I also use it on my sandals.)
But it’s not just our things – it’s the way we speak, the music we get into, the company we keep – all of these, even at a subtle level, are telling stories about ourselves.
And we like them because we like the stories they tell.
(Political affiliations have become sort of badge these days too, I might add.)
Very few us are immune to it. Let he is without sin throw the first takeaway coffee cup at the hobo.
Perhaps a rare few break away into a unique sort of freedom. Think those monks in their saffron robes and shaved heads. Think St Francis throwing the fabric from his father’s shop out the window. They escaped the need to be an ‘individual’ – or a particular sort of individual.
The rest of us (me included, of course) are stuck with story telling.
And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. We’re a social species. We’re geared to care about what other’s think of us.
That said, even if we all just exist along a spectrum, there are parts of the spectrum that are pretty hard to deal with.
Like our hobo mate.
He’s probably at the far end of the spectrum. He’s so caught up in the stories that he’s telling, that there’s no space in his psychic reality for anyone else anymore.
You either participate in the bullshit, on his terms, or you don’t. There’s no room for the ‘you’ that you want to be. Only the ‘you’ that he wants you to be.
But I think his end of the spectrum is more densely populated than we think. I know quite a few people who are so caught up in the stories that they’re telling that there’s no room for you to be you anymore.
I’ve been in more than a few conversations where I’ve thought, I could easily be swapped out with a suit stacked with egg-plants here, and it just wouldn’t make any difference to how this conversation is going.
They’re downloading whatever is front and centre in their mind. They’re not looking to engage with the unique complex that I am, they’re just looking for a set of ears in which to set up their pantomime.
“And I said this, because I’m that sort of person. And then I did that, because I’m this sort of person… etc.”
These people will get the same kind of reaction our hobo mate does. I throw my coffee cup at them.
No. Just kidding. I disengage. If there’s no room for me, then I just choose not to participate in their bullshit.
So what’s the lesson here? (I have to check myself here and make sure I’m not just having a vent at a hobo.)
Believe in yourself. Follow your passions.
No, the lesson is don’t ask people to participate in your bullshit. If you’re just constructing theatres where some idealised version of yourself can play itself out, people won’t stand for it. They’ll walk away. They’ll keep their distance.
And the more you drop this story-telling, the easier your life becomes. Until you get to the point where you are just refreshing to be around. You’re not pushing stories on to others. You’re just showing up, meeting the moment how it is.
Your creating space for people to be themselves (though often they’ll just fill it with their bullshit, so you need to have strong boundaries too.)
You’ll be surprised how charismatic (and rare) this state of being is.
So that’s the lesson.
And then the hobo gave me a valuable insight into the meaning of life because I’m sensitive like that.
Know someone who’s always asking you to participate in their bullshit? How does it feel?