There’s a question on OKCupid that seems to pose something of a dilemma for a lot of people:
“Would you prefer good things happened, or interesting things?”
If I’m totally honest, it doesn’t pose much of a dilemma for me, but I was quite surprised to read the explanation one person had added to his answer:
I don’t think people who choose “Interesting” for this response have generally thought for more than a second about this question. Well… I really HOPE they haven’t, I guess.
Seriously? I’ve been thinking about this question for years. Probably about 20 years, in fact, since I first read Terry Pratchett’s novel Interesting Times shortly after it was first published in 1994. The idea of the statement, “May you live in interesting times,” being a curse fascinated me. What’s the alternative? Living in boring times?
(By now, you’ve probably realised how I answered this question …)
Interesting has always been one of my favourite words. A little further back, in 1992, my mother’s elderly aunt was dying of cancer, and she lived with us for the last 6 months of her life. For a family that liked to discuss philosophical, ethical and political issues (while avoiding anything that affected us on a deeply emotional level), this provided the perfect opportunity to distract ourselves from the immediate situation – the impending death of a close relative – by discussing the philosophical concepts of life, death, and what comes after.
The thing is, unless you’ve got religion, it isn’t actually possible to know, so all you can do is theorise.
I theorised a lot!
Eventually, I came to a very simple and logical conclusion that removed – for me – all fear of death. (I should add that I’m talking about death here, not dying. I still had a very real fear of the process of dying, which seems likely to be painful.) My conclusion was:
“There’s either something after death, or there’s nothing. If there’s nothing, we won’t know anything about it. If there’s something, it might be interesting.”
And there it is – that word. Interesting.
I’ve never really believed there’s nothing after death. I’m an INTP personality type, and logical to a fault. Trying to imagine myself not existing puts my logical head into a spin. Surely there’s some paradox there! So logic suggests that there must be something after death, rather than nothing, and hopefully it will be interesting. It might not be fun – I never suggested it would be – but interesting must beat sitting around on clouds for all eternity, with nothing better to do than tidy your wings and straighten your halo.
But let’s come back to the present. After all, if I’m anticipating interesting things after I die, wouldn’t it be nice to look forward to good things while I’m still alive? Variety being the spice of life and all that.
Er … no.
The thing is, the future has something very interesting in store for us. We are currently feeling – in economic and political instability, in war and terrorism, in extreme weather conditions – the first tremors of something big. The collapse of industrial society is upon us. We are facing the disintegration of everything we know and understand, and believe to be true. Many of our ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, are about to be turned on their heads. A way of life that has worked well for us all our lives is about to stop working. We are likely to be frightened, confused, angry, and many people will probably despair.
We can shout all we like that we want good things to happen, and it won’t make the slightest bit of difference. We’re going to get interesting. Deal with it.
Dealing with things is somewhere high on my list of things I believe I’m good at. I credit my grandparents for that, and my great aunt and uncle (yes, the great aunt who died of cancer at the beginning of 1993). They all lived in London during the Second World War, and I learned useful things from them, like how to minimise waste, how to manage, and how to not freak out over irrelevant things. (I probably also learned a lot of my emotional reticence from them, which isn’t such a useful thing, but I’ll save that for another post.)
But you can actually take dealing with interesting things one step further. One of my big goals in life has always been to be happy regardless of circumstances, and the British stiff upper lip that I’m so good at is more synonymous with an ability to stoically endure whatever life throws at you than it is with happiness. It seemed pretty obvious that being happy with life meant actively welcoming the interesting things that were going to happen.
I had a little help in learning to welcome the good, the bad and the downright ugly, and it came from an unexpected direction. Back in the early noughties, I picked up a book in a second hand bookshop in Totnes. The book was Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch, and I didn’t realise until I got it home that I’d picked up the second book in the series, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of it, and I went on to read the first and third books as well.
(I did read a couple of others, actually, but it’s only the first three books that I really love. CwG starts out fascinating, but seems to stop going anywhere after a while, rather like the epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind.)
I’ll write a detailed review of CwG at some point because, although it hasn’t defined my spirituality – it simply clarified much of what I was already thinking – it does come closer to describing my spirituality than anything else I’ve ever read. Most relevant to my fascination with interesting (rather than good) things is its explanation of our reason for being here on Earth.
We are here to experience things.
You can believe that or not, but it makes a lot of sense to me, and it’s why I feel so comfortable answering interesting when I know it means other people – not just myself – will have really shitty things happen to them. We’re not just here to experience things; we’re here to experience everything.
In that context, no experience is good or bad. It may be joyful, it may be sad. We may experience hope, fear, grief, joy, anger, jealousy, love … whatever. It’s all experience, and it’s what we’re here for.
So, when I answer interesting, it’s because I’m here for the rollercoaster ride of life, with all its ups and downs, changes of direction, and infinite variety. I’m not afraid of the experiences that society has chosen to call bad because I know they can’t really hurt me. I’m not less of a person for the experience; I’m more. And I would love for more people to lose that fear of bad things happening because the sense of freedom it gives you is incredible.
I’m not going to say I’m never afraid because that would be a lie. Now and then, most often if I think my animals are at risk, fear does raise its ugly head, and I don’t try to hide from it.
Mostly, I’m just curious to see what the future might bring. Perhaps it will be interesting.