Alright… real talk. I’m a white man in my mid-30s. I was raised in a very modest, Roman Catholic family in Pittsburgh, where I returned several years ago to build a new life as an adult. And it’s been generally successful! I genuinely love this city, it’s great to be around family again, I’m working enough to pay my bills, and I met a smart, attractive, well-traveled man about a year ago and locked that shit down into a lovely, healthy relationship. Yay me!
But here’s the thing. While I’ve shed my religious upbringing in my adult life, I’ve held on to a moral code of being a good person and treating others with dignity and respect. And for the most part, I’ve tried to operate under the idea that most people are trying to do the same thing. But… the world doesn’t really look like that anymore. Every single little aspect of life seems to be politically polarized and I find myself fighting with friends and family that I guess I still value? Most days I feel like I am fighting the good fight, but sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been radicalized in some way by the same culture we all exist in.
I consider myself a smart consumer of media. I follow the news, maybe too much, but it’s always from sources that I believe are still reporting from a strange thing called “reality.” But, on a very core level I feel like the joy of life has been sucked out of me, and I only exist for “the fight” now. Every single advertisement now sounds like propaganda, every feel good story is some wicked angle to make me complicit in someone else’s exploitation. I’m finding it harder and harder to just engage with life and with other people in a way that is normal and fulfilling, when American life feels anything but. Call it your typical existential crisis, and maybe it is… but maybe you have some insight?
Writing an advice column means I’m in the business of answering questions, but I often find the most interesting part of a letter is the question that goes unasked. Sometimes when people write to me about a relationship issue what they are really wondering is something closer to “what is fair to demand of those we love?” or when they ask for career advice what they actually want to know is “what makes life good?”
There’s a question here you aren’t asking yourself, and it’s an important one: Who gives a shit?
You have resisted the pull of apathy, and that’s important, but narcissism can be just as alluring, especially when you are in a relatively comfortable position. I would know! I’ve succumbed to it before and probably will again and every time I should have stopped to ask myself why on earth anyone else should care.
I’m sorry that becoming aware of how the world immiserates people is exhausting, but who gives a shit? There are parts of that dynamic more exhausting than the awareness. I know it sounds like I’m dunking on you, and I am, but I’m also offering some very real advice for addressing what sounds like a growing problem in your life. Perhaps what is unfilling is not your quest to be good but seeing yourself as alone in it.
After all, the world has never been fundamentally fair and decent for most people in most places, and yet they manage to build lives full of meaning and suffering and joy.
They are doing it all around you, right now, if you just take a look. People are standing beside their neighbors and demanding to be treated with dignity. They are giving money and shelter and support. They are asking to build something new in the ashes of the old. They are placing themselves in front of an occupying military force and yelling “suck my dick!” If you can’t find the joy in that then truly I don’t know what to tell you.