11 July 2012

On the solidarities of the solitary

Human beings are made of braggadocio, self-righteousness and bravado.  Peel away the public skin of an individual or take a peek when he or she washes make-up off face in the privacy of family or room, and that demon within is revealed.  We get to see their underside, the solitary creature within, made of anxieties, fears and self-doubt. 
We are so lonely that we spend lifetimes looking for a friend, a twin, a someone who we can really relate to, and sometimes in desperation we seek relief in the clone-option, having children.  It never works.  We can’t clone ourselves.  We don’t have twins.  We can experience ‘twinning’ but only momentarily and only insofar as we exclude all differences. When we do ‘twin’ then we become a sanitized ‘us’, indulge in a patently unsustainable charade and sooner or later are forced to acknowledge that we are more than who we make ourselves out to be. 

We are optimists, us humans.  We would love the entire world to concur with us on all counts.  We are social creatures, political animals.  All of us, in our own way, spend lifetimes canvassing support for our projects, mobilizing others, planning to secure certain victories.  This is where we are confronted by and often made to despair on account of our solitariness.  Who can we trust 100% except ourselves?  Even this is doubtful; we have to admit that this side of our public skin, there is a flesh and blood ‘self’ that is not quite at ease with itself. 

We are all cowards, to a greater or lesser degree.  All of us are terrified.  As Udayasiri Wickramaratne points out in his playlet, ‘bhaya vuna minihek oba amathai’ (A man who is terrified addresses you), we are terrified that we might speak a truth even in jest (boruwata hari hari deyak kiyai kiyala bayai) and we are terrified that we might do something right by mistake (weradilaa hari hari deyak karai kiyala bayai).  We don’t say or do things that might cause us discomfort; we lie instead, we fudge.   The important thing to remember is that if we lie to ourselves, then it means we can lie to anyone else.  It follows then that anyone could lie to us.  So we can’t trust anyone.  We can’t find ‘twin’, we never get to frolic in ‘Twinland’ and we experience ‘twinning’ only in passing. 

What does this do to our political projects, those exercises in collective action?  Well, we can’t really trust the next guy.  So we protect ourselves from possible betrayal. We hold ourselves back, we buy insurance.    We crawl back to comfort zone and are miserable in our solitude. 

I think we are far too hard on ourselves.  If we are more relaxed, we might understand that twinning is impossible, but this doesn’t mean that we will always be confronted by zero convergence.  There will always be common ground.  There will always be someone who is twin for moment . Or two. Someone we can trust under certain conditions, certain moments and certain issues.  We can therefore find convergence. Togetherness. 

Most importantly though, we must remember that this twin of moment could very well be our arch enemy the next, the one person who is not only diametrically opposed in objective, being and action, but might even be totally devoid of compassion and oblivious to the dictates of shared yesterdays. 

Our emotions get in the way. We remember, and do so selectively.  We are hampered by ego and anger, by our intimate knowledge of our limitations, by the reluctance of others to trust us, which reinforces our mistrust. 

And yet, some succeed where others fail.  Success, I believe has seldom been contextualized the way Michael Jordon, for now the greatest basket ball player ever (Kobe Bryant of the Lakers will inherit that title in 2012, I predict).  I saw it first in Shehan Karunatilleka’s fascinating novel, ‘The Chinaman’:

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.’

My friend Udayakumara Liyanage told me almost twenty years ago that there are a lot of obstacles to conceiving, whereas I had thought it was a matter of getting the date right.  There were other factors, he educated me.  Conceiving another life is a miracle. It’s the same with birthing anything.  Even love.  Togetherness. Trust. 

We are too ignorant to get it right first time.  Our arrogance gets in the way. Our anger trips us.  Our lack of practice slows us. 

All things considered, if it is a moment of magic, a drop of poetry or a word of love that’s our salaake (ration) for this lifetime, we have a lot to be thankful for.  This is, for reasons known to few, a moment to say ‘thank you’.  Personal, yes.  But so common, if you think about it. Got to miss more than 9000 times, but still worth the effort. 

As my friend Kanishka pointed out more than twenty years ago wisely, we are not alone in our solitude.  We cannot find a twin, but there are twinning moments. Let’s be thankful for these rarities.