Jean-Paul Sartre said that “hell is other people.”
When I’m surrounded by people with whom I seem to have nothing in common, I’d be quick to agree.
All my life, other people have brought me tremendous amounts of stress.
They have confused me, irritated me, and stirred up visceral anger in me.
When I was self-diagnosed with ‘introversion’ several years ago, I took peaceful refuge in the idea that I was not well-matched to other people — that I had an excuse to avoid unnecessary interactions with other humans.
Until I realised that avoiding others wasn’t doing a whole lot of good to my general well-being.
It was easy to forget — in my continual quest to confirm that others were indeed terrible — that most of my best memories were, in fact, shared with other people.
Others have brought me joy, excitement, calm and colour.
I don’t even need to be physically with people to derive joy from them. Apart from the nourishing scent of roasting coffee, the main reason for choosing to work in cafes was — and still is — to be in proximity to other people. To feel a part of something — whatever that ‘something’ is.
The 20th-century psychologist Alfred Adler said that all (all!) our problems were interpersonal relationship problems.
I won’t go deeply into that right now, but he means that everything painful can be tied to harmony lacking in our relationships.
- Problems at home.
- Problems at work.
- Problems with money.
- Problems with confidence.
- Problems with technology.
It’s all social.
It’s all about our inability to navigate the bumpy ground of social synergy.
Adler is an underrated philosopher whose ideas on what creates happiness are the most plausible and sensical I have so far found.
He emphasised the social element closely intertwined within happiness.
He said that to be happy requires that we feel we are part of a community and that we feel we have value in that community.
I must stress that he said that it is to have a ‘sense’ of it, not even to tangibly be a part of any specific community, nor that we are required to create something visibly useful to feel a part of it. It is merely that we have the feeling that — concerning the rest of society: we are connected, and we have worth.
This depends on a mode of thinking; a philosophy — more so than visible social status, a skill and any material worth — though all can contribute to this ‘feeling.’
To know that we can handle our problems requires that we have a healthy relationship with the idea of humanity.
This can be hard (thanks for continually reminding me of this, Internet).
But we cannot be happy if we view others, including ourselves, as enemies; when we see humanity as inherently wrong.
When we shut ourselves off from the potential to connect authentically with people, we cannot begin to reach a sense of having value in a community.
And we cannot sense our value in a community if we cannot accept ourselves and other people just as they are.
Just as they are.
And I’m talking about all people, not just a select sliver of society. Why?
Because if we can only tolerate a part of humanity, we are incapable of genuinely accepting it as a whole.
That sense of separateness with our fellow man, in general, will always infect our ability to be in harmony with our world and with ourselves — to be truly happy.
It must be all or nothing.
We must accept all of humanity — otherwise, at some level, we reject all of it.
Acceptance does not mean being blind to what is ‘wrong’ with people. There is plenty wrong.
But to see the good in people, we must understand that there is also plenty not to like. Humanity is a heaving, filthy mess in reality. But there is plenty of good inside it too.
Acceptance of humanity means not taking ourselves or others so seriously. When I take myself seriously, it is when I deny my flaws. When I try to hide them. Whenever I’ve been awkward around people, this is why. I’m hiding something. I’m in denial of something that seems wrong.
When we can be ok with not being liked — when we are ok with the blemishes that are on all of us, we relax. We are free. Nothing can touch us.
This starts with accepting ourselves, and the untidy heterogeneity that runs through all of humanity.
For me, this is a work in progress. And that’s ok. I’m deepening my self-love, as well as that community sense spoken of by Adler, and I feel like I am getting better.
Repeating mantras is one compelling aspect of this.
It’s like a viscous black fluid is slowly draining out of me.
Continually find acceptance and, ideally, friendship in people, regardless of what supposedly tarnishes their character.
Seek positive connections, even if they are rejected. That is on them. Maybe they are not yet ready for your good nature.
But maintain your view of others as on the same level; as friends; as connections, even if only conceptually.
Even if you choose to spend very little time with others physically.
Find faith in humanity, not because everyone is perfect, but because you chose to find something to like.
Have the courage to know our black spots yet to find the light in all of us anyway.
Only then will you be happy.