I’m guessing that it’s incredibly common for people who are feeling mildly depressed at 4 AM to type incredibly emo questions into Google and see what sort of wisdom the internet has to offer. Usually, there isn’t much. There are too many companies out there run by people whose pursuit of happiness involves trying to sell us some kind of happiness. These companies pack most of the pages of Google results with drivel that repeats the conventional wisdom. Most of it is just Chicken Soup For The Soul type spirituality.
But sometimes you find something pretty good. And it’s usually on Yahoo Answers. Not in the answers, the answers are, at best, banal and, at worst, horrifying. No, the good stuff is in the questions. At the risk of perhaps being slightly too revealing, I’m going to excerpt a fascinating question that I found recently:
I am a failure at life. I try so hard..and one of my main goals is to simply make my parents proud. Clearly, I cannot do this. I am not as smart as my siblings, or any of my cousins. My extended family is filled with doctors/lawyers..(you name it, they are it). But I am not like them, I get average grades in school, and I cannot take test for my life. I would spend an entire day studying(and I have improved my studying habits over the years), but it is not good enough. I’ll score lower than people who basically skim or read over the material before hand. I respect my parents a lot, and I would do anything for them, but it seems like whatever I do is wrong. Ex. I tried to get into student council via interview, but I didn’t make it along with 16 other people,so I started complaining to my mom(this was the third time i tried, and yet failed once again).. my mom told me that there smust be something wrong about me. Today, I was watching a movie, and she told me that I should be studying for my SATs. Although I do understand this, and she is right. She doesn’t need to rant off aobut how she has no faith in me. And when I do study, she’s like, “you don’t know how to study, you try..but you cannot succeed. “Clearly, I get NO POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT. But then again, I think to myself, every single time..next time will be better, I’ll score higher. Sure enough, I don’t, I fail again and again(at life). THere will be yelling and such.
I hate talking about this, but I’m just so confused. What ever advice I receive, I go along with it.
I just feel that when everyone else is succeeding and taking 10 steps forward in their life, I’m taking 20 steps back spiraling into a vortex of failure.
Now, am I wrong, or is that not a very well-written and very compelling lament? Usually these laments are not so compelling. They are full of excuses, and trivia. There’s no real storyline there. Oftentimes the laments are not real laments, they’re just 1000-word ways to say: “I am in the midst of a chemical depression”.
But this one is great. There is such an evocative little story wrapped up in there. And I probably wouldn’t have noticed if the lament hadn’t been of such a specific type. Basically it’s this kid, a junior in High School, who might be stupid.
Is she stupid? It’s not clear. And that’s the beauty of it.
People are on the fence about how stupid she is. But there is a lot of frustration flying around about how stupid she might be. She respects her parents, she tries to make them happy, but she can’t. They yell at her about how she’s lazy. They think if she worked harder, or differently, then she would get better results.
I don’t know whether this kid is stupid. She doesn’t know either. Her parents don’t know. That ambiguity is what makes the story so interesting. Here’s a kid who refused to wrap up her life with some kind of excuse, or some encapsulated wisdom.
It is hard to believe that an unintelligent kid could write like this. But I kind of hope that this kid is actually stupid, because if she is, then that would illustrate one of my most major and most unsubstantiated beliefs.
I believe that all people can tell compelling stories. I don’t have very much evidence for that belief. But I think it’s unfair to judge people by rambling comments they make on argument-blogs, or by the anecdotes they tell over drinks, or by their blog posts, or their Creative Writing workshop imitations of Hemingway or Heinlein. Those aren’t the stories that we really care about telling.
We all do and say stupid things. That’s because so little of our intelligence is spent on superficialities. We, all of us, mostly turn the full force of our intellects towards the questions of how to live well. We seldom talk about those questions, because we do not have any answers to offer. And the question does not do any good to anyone. Other people have their own questions. They are only mildly interested in ours. For instance, the response this person got was something awful about Jesus Christ and how this kid is going to be a great success some day if she just hangs in there. The effort this kid went through in boiling down her dilemma into a precise and unflinching three hundred words went pretty unrewarded…that is why few people take that kind of time and effort.
But I think that if everyone did try to talk about the things that mattered most to them, and tried to accurately convey their thought processes, then most of those people would produce some pretty fascinating stories.