We can never know what to want,
because, living only one life, we can neither
compare it with our previous lives
nor perfect it in our lives to come.
-Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being*
I had an interesting journey to work today. There was a ‘customer incident’** at Lewisham station, which meant that I had to get the bus (or buses as it turned out) to North Greenwich tube Station and make my way into London from there. It was a little arduous two-hour commute, my MP3 player went flat midway there, and I got very wet in the process as it was pissing down with rain.
That is, I think you’ll agree, not exactly a description of a smooth journey. And yet, whilst listening to my fellow commuters moaning and whinging about it on the train this evening, I could summon no indignation of my own. I couldn’t even really summon a nasty word to say about the unknown corpse who so effectively sabotaged my journey to work. All around me, nonetheless, the stiff was called all manner of rude words, the railways and the government were blamed, plans to move to the country or, better still, another country entirely, were discussed in wistful tones.
I looked away from this scene to read my paper, only to remember that the free papers use a lot of ‘user generated content’. It’s a cheap way of filling the gaps between the pictures of celebrities looking the worse for wear and the extraneous pictures of pretty women illustrating irrelevant stories. I learned quite soon after I started reading these papers (they’re a good way of making the journey home pass by largely unnoticed) that the sort of people who write for them, as with the content of just about any public forum, seem to be permanently outraged about something.
I’m often faced with this sort of avalanche of righteous indignation - the worst is if you read the comments on the ‘have your say’ section of the BBC website*** - and I’m never quite sure how to react to it. It’s like when someone decides to vent at me about something, I’m always completely lost for words. I’m unable to make the necessary empathetic noises but at the same time I don’t really care enough about the subject to argue. It’s like if someone launched an angry tirade about having only one nose – I just don’t know what to say to outraged people.
It’s in this atmosphere that I start to think that I’m seriously socially aberrant – I can’t recall ever being outraged about anything. Honestly. I think the closest I’ve ever got to outrage was after the 7/7 bombings, but they upset me more than they made me angry – way more so than I could have expected.
I’m not evangelising about my approach to life, or at least I'm trying not to. I am aware, however, that I'm probably smug as hell about it, because that's how I am and I like it - same reason why I like being from London, it's because I'm not from anywhere else, so I like it by default. Still, to evangelise would be to suggest that it was something about which I made a conscious decision, or that I’ve got any experience of living any other way. That’s what always amuses me about self help books; the idea that you can, through conscious will, effect some kind of change in your fundamental self. Personalities change, but the idea that this can be done deliberately is ridiculous, like suggesting that you can grab your ankles and lift yourself off the ground. I think that most of the dissatisfaction that people feel with their lives or lifestyles comes not from choosing the wrong approach to life, but from trying to choose one at all.
*I know this quote from 'Where I'm Calling From' by Raymond Carver, I've never actually read the book it's from
**‘One under’ if you catch my drift. A fatality, or so the rumour goes.
***Consider that a warning, really, don’t look, it’ll just make you want to curl up in a ball and cry.