Sometimes I come across an article that talks about people wanting to do more with their lives and the author, uncomfortable with this yearning, chooses to mock it rather than understand it. For wanting to do good, for wanting to have impact, for wanting to bring some beauty to the world, these people (we) are chastised.
“Special snowflakes” they say. “Don’t understand the real world,” they say. “Of course you hate it; that’s why it’s called ‘work’.”
The rhetorical device seems to be to divide the world into “prodigies” (who play Carnegie Hall at 7 years of age or get their Ph.D.’s at 16) and “everybody else”. Since you’re not a Prodigy, there’s nothing special about you at all. (1) No matter what skills, talents, and accomplishments you have, you are not entitled to celebrate and honour your deep yearnings. It is absurd for you to have desires for more than a house in the suburbs and a mediocre job pushing useless pieces of paper. Arrogant to imagine that you have, burning in your heart, a Great Work. Even more so to conclude that you should do something about it.
In fact, in this economy you should consider yourself lucky to have that boring job doing something that you suspect might not be entirely useful or ethical. You could be serving coffee.
These words, however well meant, are not benign. Let us allow that they may be well meant, that the writers could perceive our discomfort as a problem that could be addressed if only we would learn to Accept our Lot in Life. It is the prescribed solution, after all. Yet this does not add to the beauty in the world. Instead, snake-like, it sneaks inside our heads and becomes the voices of doubt.
Having come to a point where we could have freedom, we cannot perceive it.
This is how the system maintains itself. The awesome are tamed. The wild are made servants of the domestic, disciplined by the voices in their heads. Growth is directed, we become espaliers, creeping along the wall, yet knowing in our bones that a third direction exists. The intellect is trained upon other people’s problems, curiosity directed towards the trivial, and the Big Problems languish, because everybody who recognizes them is convinced that they, personally, are too small to do anything about them.
They’re wrong about you.
Yet a moment of caution… being secretly awesome, knowing about the third dimension, doesn’t mean you are better than those around you. It can be so frustrating to watch… because deep down you know… they’re secretly awesome too. They just might not have heard the whispers insistently demanding that they stretch just… one… branch skyward.
And the heartbreaking moment, the one that is hard to look at is this: the girl on the floor of the Bangladesh sweatshop who dreams of nothing more than a chance to work at the sewing machines instead of the clippers… she has this in her, too.
1. If you are a prodigy, you’re still welcome here. We promise not to fawn over you, or to imagine that your life is carefree and perfect. We will treat you, in other words, as a human being.