Don’t get exercise by jumping to conclusions

I had a 45-minute conversation with a stranger yesterday. I didn’t want to do it. He asked me about what I was listening to on my headphones. I gathered myself and told him that I was listening to death metal. Truth.

I didn’t know that what I was listening to on my headphones would launch into an amazing back-and-forth about an amazing depth of topics. We talked about how music affects us internally and thus externally. Then we talked about how the external feelings you put out via body language can affect whether or not people will indeed talk or interact with you. From there, we went into the preconceived notions that people carry with them as a contributing factor to whether or not an interaction will be successful or if others will brush you off because of a feeling of superiority or inferiority.

We talked about talking. That moment was very meta. Then the conversation turned to the way that society functions, with some profound knowledge about the notion of time and work.

It was such a big moment, but I will attempt to explain. Assume that time is money. We earn money in exchange for time. Assume that one has a method with which to exchange time for money, like a job. If one is not exchanging time for money at any given moment in that model, then one is effectively spending money (net profit loss) to gain time. In essence, time equals money is fully a math expression, therefore the sides must balance. When we use our time for what we want besides making money, we are actually buying it back.

This concept, elucidated by my new acquaintance, prompted me to think about how the only resource we innately have is time. We use our time to gain other resources, be it knowledge, skill, money, social capital, enlightenment or peace. I had never thought that talking to a stranger with honest eyes would be a way to spend my time and feel it was not wasted.

I don’t like the idea of talking to people. I enjoy it quite well when I am in the middle of a good conversation, but at any given moment in time, I don’t find myself thinking that I need to talk to someone. As stuck-up and arrogant as it sounds, I never really think of other people as having much that is actually relevant to say. Weather, entertainment, vicarious gossip, complaints, emotional manipulation—there just isn’t anything that the average person talks about during the day that really matters in the grand scheme of things.

Then if you want to genuinely talk about something that you are enthusiastic about, it has to be done ironically or under the protection of the nerd kingdom. So one gets the feeling that one cannot talk about anything that really matters to anyone except those with whom one is super close—at least not without putting excessive expectations on other people, hoping that they will be able to say something of value.

But then you forget that other people might feel that they can’t realistically say anything important either. “It’s not like anyone could do anything about it.” “Other people can’t handle my thought.” “No one wants to talk about anything that might make them sad.” “They wouldn’t even share in the joy of a new realization.” “What’s the point?”

It’s easy to forget that when someone is interacting with you, it is not just the person in front of you that is talking to you. You are also talking to the person they were in the past, along with every experience that person takes with them day to day and all the expectations that this other person has ever placed on themselves, others and society. It’s more than that even, because while we know that no two people will experience the same thing in exactly the same way, we have to assume, due to our own limitations, that others encounter things like we do. So then when I talk to someone, I am interacting with their self-image, their support system, their mindset, their emotions, their reason, their passions, their bodily condition and their projections on the world.

It must be this way because I do the same thing. That being the case then, it is my job to be courteous to others and respect their carry-alongs. This necessarily means that I am going to step all over people’s equilibrium and make them feel all sorts of things they might not want to feel, even by accident, because communication doesn’t always happen smoothly, to say the least. The logical conclusion, if one doesn’t want to harm other people, would be to keep to one’s self the real existential, societal, spiritual realizations that one is working through or has even fully realized and instead stick to more mundane things.

But then someone will talk to you, completely off-guard and earnestly, and shatter your conclusions about the ethics of non-interaction, appearance and the idea that no one has anything of value to say.

I’ve spent so much of my time brushing people off and giving the two-word “for sure,” thinking that I had nothing to contribute, that other people had nothing I could learn from them and that there was little value in talk. I’ve grown good at it. It’s my default setting, and it’s super easy to justify with all the forced interaction we are bombarded with. But if I gained something real from a conversation with a stranger, then maybe a stranger could get something real from me too. That might be worth the extra effort and mutual discomfort. I hope that any future interlocutors will agree.