This morning when I was drinking coffee, my mind started wandering and I noticed how my awareness of myself being in the café I was at was overlaid with a kind of meta-awareness—an awareness of my awareness of myself being in the café. “Here I am, seeing myself as being where I am.” I looked out the window and saw people entering my frame of visibility from one side and exiting it on the other side and I took note of the fact that each one of them looked at the world through the window of their attention at any given moment in time.
“But there is so much more,” I thought. “There is so much more out there that evades our attention, even though it is just as real as the things that are more immediately accessible to us.” In my mind I zoomed out and looked at the city from above. All the noises were so much quieter, the cars so much smaller, the people so much closer together. I zoomed back in. “This is me paying attention to what’s in front of me. But why am I not paying attention to all the things that I can’t see?” The picture in front of me defocused and my senses opened up to reveal a world of pictures and sounds outside of my physical abilities.
I saw people sleeping in another time zone in one direction and people manufacturing clothes in another direction, thousands of kilometers away from me. I saw millions of unnamed humans following their attention, looking left, looking right, staring at their phones, looking at the sky, crossing the road, drinking coffee. “We all exist at the same time, in this very moment. In a sense, we all live in the same place. And yet, we are so separate from each other, separated by our limited ability to see beyond what’s right in front of us.”
As my attention shifted away from the noisy cacophony of the entirety of humanity, a different voice got a chance to be heard: the voice of a lone whale swimming through the ocean somewhere, in this moment. “This whale is alive somewhere on this planet. I know that whales still exist and so this picture represents something real.”
I took another sip of my coffee. The whale had no idea that I was paying attention to it. How could it. But it was alive. It is alive. It is out there even now as I’m writing this.
It needs to get out.
If I knew how to say it, I’d be able to free myself from the burden of not getting past the point that motivates me to get it out in the first place.
If I knew how to say it, everything would be so clear that I wouldn’t gain anything from saying it. But also, it is not guaranteed that anyone at all would gain anything from it either. The finished product may be so foreign that it fails to attract attention, fails to be recognized, fails to be seen and understood.
It is not a thought. It is the urge for a thought to be brought to completion, after which point I am freed from it.
It occupies me, lives off of the resources my body provides. It is transforming me into the next me.
It needs to get out.
Berlin, a brisk fall day. A woman enters a café and, in English, tells the person behind the counter that she lost her wallet and asks for a glass of water. Unimpressed, they roll their eyes and shake their head. “Please!” Watching the scene, I get the sense that the people running the place resent the high number of tourists visiting them every day. The woman asks again. Not even a glass of water? As he gets ready to leave, a man hands her a 5€ bill. “Oh my god, thank you.” He smiles and shakes his head. The person behind the bar looks away and cleans glasses.
Later that same day, I’m on the S-Bahn headed home. A woman walks through the train offering exactly one copy of the magazine Motz, typically sold by homeless people. Her dress marks her as Roma. She stops in front of every person for about 2 or 3 seconds before she moves on to the next. Visibly uncomfortable, every single person on the train looks away; some shake their head. As I hand her a 10€ bill, we look at each other and smile. After 2 seconds or so, she moves on.
What makes The Other human is the empathy that we extend to them.
The Other is who is waiting in line in front of you.
The Other is who entered the café and captured your attention.
The Other is who plays the same song every day on your way to work.
The Other is who declares you illegal.
The Other is who tells you to dress your child more warmly.
The Other is who shouts “faggot” at you.
The Other is who sells a magazine nobody wants to read.
The Other is who applies for a job at your company.
The Other is who asks you to be quiet and listen.
The Other is who can’t seem to hear what you are saying.
The Other is who asks to be let in.
The Other is who tells you to stay away.
The Other is who makes the wrong decisions.
The Other is who you want to be.
The Other is who you don’t want to be.
You should read this if you’ve ever wanted to write in order to change people’s view of something. Maybe that’s not something you’ve ever wanted to do. I don’t know. I can’t really tell from where I am. I just made the assumption that there are people who do want to do that, and I made it explicit so you could decide for yourself how to continue.
The little bit of Brazilian jiu-jitsu I’ve done (before I quit because of neck issues) is a constant source of analogies.
Today it helped me think about how the conditions that led to the civil rights movement are different from current conditions that appear to prevent effective social change from materialising—different in the degree of clarity and unambiguity potential target positions present themselves with.
Who am I?
I am one of We.
I am not one of The Others.
Without The Other, I can’t be, because without The Other there can be no We.
Without sleep there would be no being awake. Being awake would be everything and therefore nothing worth pointing at and talking about.
Without The Other, We would be everything and therefore nothing.
How can I be one of We?