Life Is An Intense Game of Figuring Out What Other People Need
An homage to one of my most favorite articles ever
One of the more formative pieces of writing I’ve read in the past decade was a Cracked article by the now retired Jason Pargin (pseudonym David Wong). In this article he espoused some of the raw truths you come across while in the journey of life. But perhaps one of his hardest hitting lessons is at the start of his article. He begins with an allegory of a gunshot victim lying in the streets bleeding out. Obviously there are distraught people all around and at that point you decide to take action. Taking out your handy-dandy scalpel that you apparently have all the time, you begin to prepare to operate on the man. All the while the people looking on pester you for your credentials. “Are you a doctor”, “do you have training”, “how do we know what you’re doing”. To which you reply that while you may not have the credentials, you’re a “nice guy” and everyone loves you. You always remember your parents’ birthdays and you never lie. At this point people begin to get understandably frustrated at you for presuming to help someone when you’re so obviously not the guy for the job. At this point Jason rounds out the story by famously quipping:
“here is my terrible truth about the adult world: You are in that very situation every single day. Only you are the confused guy with the pocket knife. All of society is the bleeding gunshot victim.”
And he ends it with:
You arrived at the scene of that emergency, holding your pocket knife, by virtue of your birth — the moment you came into the world, you became part of a system designed purely to see to people’s needs. Either you will go about the task of seeing to those needs by learning a unique set of skills, or the world will reject you, no matter how kind, giving and polite you are.”
That is one of the most accurate descriptions that I’ve ever read about what the world expects from you. This lesson hit so hard that I’ve been keeping it tabbed on my computer for the past 8 years. The post itself has gotten tens of millions of reads and I think that’s just on Cracked alone. Either way, the gravity of his words hits you like a weighted knapsack that both spins your head around yet makes things insanely clearer. If I could have this writing on my wall to read it every day, I would. Because it applies to so many things. But most of all, it applies to what you do and how you’ll be accepted.
Your life is a series of actions you take and how they’ll be received by the people around you. Make no mistake. Tell a funny joke? You’ll instantly look around the room and see if people are laughing. If they’re not, then probably don’t tell that joke again. Writing a letter to your boss? Watch how you word it because it could have the capacity to get you fired if you write it the wrong way. All the time we go about life constantly gauging and guessing what others need from us, evaluating how much we want our targets to like/respond to us, then act accordingly to elicit that desired response. We are constantly forming hierarchies and evaluating interpersonal connections in our heads that often times we don’t think about it anymore. Those that do are often labelled as having “anxiety”. But really, the sum set of your experiences all depends on who you’re trying to please and why. And that is where we get caught up between being ourselves and being someone that society will accept.
“Authenticity” is only appreciated so long as it serves the public’s needs. You can spit on babies and still be the authentic you. But you will receive scorn in the eyes of the public. At this point, authenticity backfires on you. If you give away all your money to a worthy cause, people may like you. If that worthy cause inadvertently ends up helping Somali pirates, the story may flip on you. Suffice to say intentions have no count in how society views you. And you can do and talk and think as authentically as you want but if it holds no traction with society, you will be summarily dismissed and maybe even castigated. This is the obvious lie that “authenticity” hides. Just because a celebrity or public figure acts authentic doesn’t mean that they’re being any more or less cunning with their social tactics. Instead they’ve simply found a way to act in your emotional favor and have branded it as “just being themselves” when really they know that they’re being the person that you want them to be. The person who’s mastered this art without the audience perceiving it is truly the most gifted suitor of them all. And this rule even applies to our villains too!
Antiheroes are only loved because they represent a reflection of society that society accepts. V for Vendetta, Deadpool, Harley Quinn, they are all antiheroes because the public still loves what they do. In this way, they follow the rule of “showing the public something they didn’t realize they wanted”. By breaking the rules they allow us to indulge in our inner fantasies of seeking retribution and righteousness in our own eyes with none of the consequences. And because they toe an exceedingly thin line between vigilante-ism and self-righteousness, we find their actions acceptable. But we as a public are highly likely to turn on them on a whiff of indecency or if they do something that we don’t like. To that end, being a rebel or an antihero is romantic, but it is not realistic.
As a living being on this planet earth, your sole duty is to find what other people need and to go about seeing to that need. At the end of the day, your role as a human being is to find what other people need and to subsequently fulfill that need. And those needs requirements change all the time. What you’re parents wanted from you 20 years ago is not the same as what your colleagues need from you now. What people wanted in the restaurant experience 10 years ago is light-years different than what it is now. And here’s the thing, trends come and go and mindsets always switch. It is up to you to figure out where the trend is heading to and beat it before the rest of the crowd gets there. Otherwise you’ll be knocked to the curb while everyone else seeks their reward.
At the end of the day, my only advice to you is to find what someone else needs and go about fulfilling it. If you’re really smart, you’ll master two different crafts/passions and figure out the way in which they converge to offer a totally new package. With that being said, it’s a constant battle between yourself and your audience as both of you are changing at the same time and there’s no guarantee that what you provided happily yesterday will even be accepted today. When that inevitable point comes, switch your focuses and re-evaluate what the people around you need. Then reorient yourself and point yourself in the right direction again.