Several days ago I blogged about the traveling I did while writing my dissertation. I began to unpack how it impacted my frame of mind while I wrote. I didn’t go too deep, but somehow I ended up taking a swing at academe about how boring it is (and therefore not reflective of the world, which is anything but boring). Then I challenged people to let life seep into their work.
You know, I remained stunned at the world in which I find myself.
As a gynecologist, I would walk into an office room and within a minute the patient and I were talking about deeply human things: her very first one night stand, the extramarital affair, her petty boss, the depressed husband, the secret resentment that comes from taking care of the aging mother you never really got along with in the first place. As the physician, I normalized, we strategized, there was a lot of hugging. The process was fatiguing, because I had never learned to cope with daily emotional onslaught. However, I always found it to be a beautifully human experience. As a rule, people are powerfully alive and complicated and layered and inspiring in very unique ways.
Then I get out here in the “real world” and I see very little of that beautiful humanity anymore. It will pop up unexpectedly, usually when someone is in great need, but in general people keep themselves hidden behind masks of “normal” and “professional” and “formal.” Flat and flattening walls, all of them.
The funny thing is that I think people crave what I used to experience daily. We want to experience each other as humans. Sometimes that desire goes awry, such as with reality TV shows. I suspect many people watch them so that they can criticize other people and feel better about their own selves. It’s a toxic way to live, but it reveals curiosity and the need to confirm that other people are more flawed than they appear in public.
Another example – and one that has the potential for beautiful things – lies in A Lecture from the Lectured, written by Catherine Prendergast‘s students at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I encourage you to read it all, because it reveals students as real, complex, beautiful humans. However, the lines I am specifically thinking of are here:
Professors who ask us questions, make jokes, bring in their dogs — do anything to humanize themselves — make us feel less like just a body in the room.
We all crave seeing each other as humans, not as walled-off caricatures of “normal” or “professional” or “formal.” Why?
Because it’s fucking inspiring, that’s why. Witnessing humanity in action brings us hope that something interesting is about to happen.
Which brings me to Jon Becker’s most recent post about digital identity. In it he questions whether or not he should separate his sports tweets from his edu-tweets for several reasons. Apparently the former seems to turn off the audience for the latter. Again I recommend you read it all, but I’m going to respond to this point specifically.
I don’t like sports. Totally uninterested. However, I am also completely uninterested in computers and car engines. This does not mean any of the three are pedestrian – if anything, my lack of interest speaks poorly about my propensity for curiosity and maybe some seriously ingrained gender role training but that’s beside the point. I like to drive places, I use computers, and as for sports… sports have been a part of every culture since forever. There’s something deeply human there that I haven’t discovered yet. Sports are powerful. Sports are humanity in action. They inspire and therefore should be respected.
So…to all the profs who are deciding whether they should put up more walls or tear them down, I say tear the damn things down already. Becker, your sports tweets make you interesting. They’re an even better approach than bringing in a dog. Also, please don’t bring in a dog.