“Other people are hell.”
I didn’t say that. Existential perfumer Jean-Paul Sartre did. I share the deep sentiment though. As an introvert, the ideology that hell is other people is my core value. But as far as core values go it’s as deep as — I only use a mac.
Whether you like it or not, you live your life between pleasing people and trying very hard not to give a shit about them. Whichever way you divide up your life, people are the lowest common denominator. It’s why values like kindness, compassion, and unconditional love seem grand when you are thinking about them, but go faint when exposed to reality. Because – and I not sure if you’ve noticed given how enterprising you are at taking selfies – reality is freeloaded with people.
Remember those mornings when you wake up feeling unstoppable? Most often it’s because you just told yourself you will stop caring about people. It’s liberating, for a whole minute. For that moment, you feel like you have solved the single greatest problem of your life. It’s astonishing it took you so long given the answer was so simple. Stop caring.
How’s that worked out for you so far?
If we are in fact living inside a bubble, this one takes all the soap.
The problem is not that you are living for others. It’s that you don’t know what living for yourself means. In order to avoid finding out the answer to that question, you blame the faceless collective that is other people. For sabotaging the plans you never had.
But the problem isn’t just that. As you go deeper into the layer of hell that is other people, your beliefs become increasingly twisted. You begin to believe, not caring means doing things people disapprove of. Or worse, you start doing things to hurt people in an attempt to stop caring about them. Or you go all out and get a degree in the arts.
An oft-repeated dictum in the not-caring genre is, there’s no better revenge than success. What. a. shitty. achievement. In the pretext of not caring about people, you’ve spent all your life trying to prove them wrong. Hell isn’t other people. It’s you.
Living the life you want is not a result of not caring about people. Because if that is what your life revolves about, it just means – irony alert – you have defined your values around using other people as a means to your end, exploiting their weakness and winning the respectability of idiots. All the while, you thought you couldn’t live the life you wanted because people wouldn’t allow it. But here’s the bittersweet truth: they couldn’t care less.
Sure there will be detractors and besides being great suppliers of material for both art and life they help test your beliefs, for free. Other than these two benefits, they are an excuse that prevent you from finding out what you are capable of. If they become the sole reason you want to succeed, here is the full quote from Sartre in case you make it: “So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire, and brimstone. Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is other people!”
I believe Charles Darwin came into this world on an apple basket and pinned to his bib was a note that read, In God, we trust. Whichever theory of evolution you choose to believe what’s common across every storyline is this: we’ve come so far because of one another. Cooperation was the means to our higher selves and it always will be. What a dick move to come so far and say you couldn’t get to your end because of other people.
There are a million mysteries in the universe words can’t describe. The most elegant of them has to be the kindness of a stranger. If you don’t see hope in that, you may as well give up. Beyond the self-constructed hell that is other people is a truth we are all unwilling to confront. A freedom too enormous to bear. A love so unconditional it feels wrong. A universe for which you have no questions, only awe. You don’t get to this place alone. Hell is missing out on those who lead you to this place.