It doesn’t matter how many times I encounter a truism, doesn’t matter how many people I trust swear up and down that it’s not only true but incredibly important – I never believe it until it actually happens to me. Right up until that point, I’m bulletproof. I nod, and show willing, but… I’m not on board. Not yet.
For example, I know that life is precious. You only get one, it could end at any moment, and you will bitterly regret wasting it. I know it intellectually, but not emotionally. It has hit my head, but not my heart.
Very recently, I realised that I talk something through out loud in order to make it stick. It helps me understand, and remember, if I force myself to articulate it. Unfortunately, sometimes these things sound pretty obvious and kind of silly to the unfortunate other party or parties in this conversation. “Well, yes, Tom. Obviously. Duh.”
There’s a phenomenon that I have only started noticing and analysing recently. I suspect it’s pretty obvious stuff, but I find it really interesting and so here I am, talking it through. Sorry.
Normal. Weird. I have grown to become enormously suspicious of these words.
Most of us will have cliques. Social circles. It’s a semi-permeable membrane, members will sometimes join and leave, but there’s still a strong sense of Us and Them. We are normal. They are weird.
There are three guys that I regularly meet up with at work for tea breaks. We are funny, and interesting. One of my favourite things to do is try to make those guys laugh. Use nicknames, in-jokes, and stupid puns – whatever it takes. Other groups also use the kitchen, obviously, and I can’t bear to overhear their banter. Even by accident. Ugh. All those other not-Us people. They’re so weird, and not funny at all.
They are the wrong side of the line.
“Oh my god, what does that girl think she’s doing with her hair?”
“That guy has the strangest laugh I’ve ever heard.”
“He can stop wearing those ‘hilarious’ t-shirts any time he likes now.”
It’s possible you’ve said something like this to a friend of yours. I don’t consider myself a gossip-monger, particularly, but I say things like that too. I don’t generally start conversations of that kind, but I join in eagerly enough.
The thing is – and this is what I find the most fascinating – it seems like we’re picking hapless targets. Cowardly character assassinations they’ll never know about. We slay them from a safe distance with our trenchant wit, and they keep walking around like zombies, oblivious to their unlife.
But that’s not what we’re doing. What we’re doing is defining a Them so we can reinforce the sense of Us by contrast. Talking about ourselves and how great we are – that would be weird, right? Not terribly British. But if we caricature those around us, it strengthens our bond. We don’t want the hypothetical girl to have a sensible or flattering haircut, because then she’s no good to us any more.
This all sounds terribly dehumanising, and I don’t believe any of us are particularly callous, selfish, heartless creatures. I think it’s just human nature. Maybe that’s terribly obvious. Maybe I’m wrong. I’m not sure, but I like thinking about it.