“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre was one of those existential French writers who thought Karl Marx was smarter than he actually was. But with an attitude encased in the aforementioned quote, there’s a possibility that Jean Paul might not have been a very well-liked fellow. And certainly by his comment, we could surmise that he was not a socially-adept kind of guy.
But that’s okay. There have been times when I can sort of relate to the opinion. I like the peace and quiet of sitting on my pumpkin and having it all to myself. And, if Sartre was, by chance, referring to conventions, conferences, or meet-and-greets, I totally get the sentiment.
I attended a conference this past weekend in Dallas. It was intense, to say the least. Overwhelming, I would have to say. In fact, I was starting to feel as if I were being held captive in one of those 1970s EST seminars.
I don’t like crowds. I don’t like conventions. I don’t like large gatherings. I can muster up the social skills and cocktail repartee when called for, but I’d prefer to be at home with an engaging book or sharing good wine and cheese and meaningful conversation with a quiet cluster of two or three good friends.
One of the speakers at this very loud, very gung-ho conference came up with an interesting but somewhat debatable point. She stated that there are three types of people:
1. Those who Make things happen.
2. Those who Watch things happen.
3. Those who Ask what happened.
The conference was intended to spur the attendees to become Those who Make things happen. I, as it turned out, was not one of those. I realized immediately upon learning of the three types, that I am not, nor will I ever be, one of Those who Make things happen.
I am, you see, one of Those who Watch things happen. A pathetically passive kind of sit-on-the-fence-sort. The kind you just want to wallop to see if she’s actually got a pulse, actually breathing.
But, you see, I love to watch things happen. I love other people’s stories. I love hearing them, seeing them, thinking about them. Even making them up, which I have gotten paid to do a lot over the years. And yes, I love writing them.
I guess at this point in my life, I just don’t really want to be the one out there having to make it all happen. I don’t believe I have always been that passive of a person. I’ve done many fun and sometimes crazy things in my life. I’ve traveled around the world. I’ve taken on educational and professional challenges. I’ve taken a few risks. I’ve done the unexpected. But, at this stage of life, I think I’d rather just sit back and watch. Is that wrong?
Because, believe me—there are a lot of stories out there in the world to watch.
Each friend’s post on Facebook gives me a story. The television in the family room gives me another story. The text messages on my phone, the newspaper, the radio, and the emails all tell me stories.
Stories are everywhere.
Now, if someone were to tell my story, it would probably read something like…
“Well, yes, she was…well interesting…sort of. She, uh, well, I guess what she did in this life is she…well, she sat in a big old overstuffed chair in the corner of the room and, well she wrote, you know…stuff.
I guess you could say she mastered the mundane. Yes, that’s it. She was mundane and, by gosh, she mastered it.
She didn’t change life. She didn’t make things happen. But she wrote stories about those who did. Essentially, she just watched life—watched things happen—and wrote about them.”
But, as Isak Dinesen said, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.” The story I tell may just not be the same one that one of Those who Make things happen would tell.
But that’s okay. It’s story.