This guy. I’m telling you. This guy! He’s so good you almost want to stop writing. So gut-level and truthful and witty and articulate, yet somehow tossed off seeming. I’m talking about Tim Kreider, who batted another one out of the park this week with “I Know What You Think Of Me” for the NY Times. It’s a short and deceptively wise reflection on the insights one can glean when someone accidentally hits “reply” instead of “forward” on an email. What may sound like the epitome of a modern problem/nightmare is, in Kreider’s hands, not simply the latest iteration of a timeless fear, but a jumping off point for an uncommonly profound look into the nature of (mixed) motivation, vulnerability, and ultimately, real love. A pretty stunning companion to the recent post on loneliness, too. I’ve said it before but it takes a special kind of voice to speak about one’s fellow man in terms that are both honest and genuinely affectionate the way Kreider does below. Of course, as he notes in his remarkable conclusion (which doubles as an unintentional mission statement, both of his writing and, God-willing, ours), the two are inextricably linked. I dare say there are some divine corollaries to such a perspective–in fact, I have it on good authority that those final paragraphs will be appearing soon in a sermon on a resource page near you:

OB-MX541_bonds0_DV_20110308001647I’ve often thought that the single most devastating cyberattack a diabolical and anarchic mind could design would not be on the military or financial sector but simply to simultaneously make every e-mail and text ever sent universally public. It would be like suddenly subtracting the strong nuclear force from the universe; the fabric of society would instantly evaporate, every marriage, friendship and business partnership dissolved. Civilization, which is held together by a fragile web of tactful phrasing, polite omissions and white lies, would collapse in an apocalypse of bitter recriminations and weeping, breakups and fistfights, divorces and bankruptcies, scandals and resignations, blood feuds, litigation, wholesale slaughter in the streets and lingering ill will…

We all make fun of one another behind one another’s backs, even the people we love. Of course we do — they’re ridiculous. Anyone worth knowing is inevitably also going to be exasperating: making the same obvious mistakes over and over, dating imbeciles, endlessly relapsing into their dumb addictions and self-defeating habits, blind to their own hilarious flaws and blatant contradictions and fiercely devoted to whatever keeps them miserable. (And those few people about whom there is nothing ridiculous are by far the most preposterous of all.)…

A friend of mine described the time in high school when someone walked up behind her while she was saying something clever at that person’s expense as the worst feeling she had ever had — and not just because of the hurt she’d inflicted on someone else but because of what it forced her to see about herself. That she made fun of people all the time, people who didn’t deserve it, who were beneath her in the social hierarchy, just to ingratiate herself or make herself seem funny or cool…

tom-toro-you-invented-a-time-machine-to-come-back-and-hit-reply-instead-of-reply-a-new-yorker-cartoon

Another friend once shared with me one of the aphorisms of 12-step recovery programs: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Like a lot of wisdom, this sounds at first suspiciously similar to idiotic nonsense; obviously what other people think of you is your business, it’s your main job in life to try to control it, to do tireless P.R. and spin control for yourself. Every woman who ever went out with you must pine for you forever. Those who rejected you must regret it. You must be loved, respected — above all, taken seriously! They who mocked you will rue the day! The problem is that this is insane — the psychology of dictators who regard all dissent as treason, and periodically order purges to ensure unquestioning loyalty. It’s no way to run a country.

The operative fallacy here is that we believe that unconditional love means not seeing anything negative about someone, when it really means pretty much the opposite: loving someone despite their infuriating flaws and essential absurdity. “Do I want to be loved in spite of?” Donald Barthelme writes in his story “Rebecca” about a woman with green skin. “Do you? Does anyone? But aren’t we all, to some degree?”

We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves, the same capacity for holding contradictory feelings in balance, for complexly alloyed affections, for bottomless generosity of heart and petty, capricious malice. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time.

Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.


Beatles – Real Love by harrison73