I didn’t do much for Thanksgiving. Or Black Friday, for that matter.
Got picked up in the morning by my dad, listened to engineering stories for a couple of hours, got home for lunch, helped my sister with calculus all afternoon, played some games, had dinner, played a couple more games, then went to bed. Nothing amazing. Brought laundry, laptop, peripherals and books. My dad works for a small company by contract and talked about how he worked around some co-worker who, due to arrogance, didn’t turn his part in on time. Car is some secondhand thing five years old. Dinner had no amazing turkey or salad or lasagna – had turkey meatballs and gravy in addition to some regular stuff, but that was about it. About the only thing that is amazing is my laptop. It was a desktop replacement when I got it, but now it’s just a bulky portable computer.
I was considering not to go home because there’s nothing amazing. What exactly changes? Four or five hours total would be lost to commute. I wouldn’t be able to train on my bike or use my beefy dual-monitor desktop. My bed at home isn’t as nice, there are cats around that always keep me up or wake me early, and though I do not need to cook my meals, at this point I don’t see cooking as too difficult a task. Would it be worth trading off no training and no supercomputer for three days for that? My sister was going home, and on a whim I decided to come along.
And I’m glad I did. Because I got to see my family.
It’s somewhat of an exotic statement these days, to talk about family as a priority, much less an immutable one. It matters not whether it’s about your parents or you being a parent to someone else; the value is no longer there. Parents can now be referred “the rents”, and thought of as purely in their resourceful value. They give me money. They drive me places. They own a home that I can live in. They pay my insurance(s). They have life insurance I can collect when they die. Maybe your dad has tools and materials. Your mom, a way to talk to kids or cook food. It’s as if your relationship with them could be put on a resume that could be handed to someone else, who would simply read it and go “Hmm, I like these parental units”. Or maybe they wouldn’t, because there wasn’t enough listed. Maybe the income isn’t high enough. House isn’t situated in a good enough neighborhood. Not enough connections. Not doing enough things for me.
But they were there. They were here for me, doing things for me, and I was here doing things for them. They didn’t have to, and I speak not of the choice in opportunity cost (though of course, I am thankful for their choices as well). It’s something more basic.
I speak of chance.
By coming home, I spent a couple of hours with my father simply telling me things. Some things not interesting and things he’d already said before, but many things I had never even considered. I had known that he’d talk my ear off, but I got many things out of it. It wasn’t something I saw coming, like how I get dopamine and a good rest after I cycle. It was something that simply happened, beyond my control and coming from beyond my horizon. My mom does this for me too in ways I don’t usually appreciate as much, but she always packs things for me that I simply might need sometime. There’s a frame in which these are “the little things” and how these mean the most, but that doesn’t tell us anything about why it means the most. It makes no sense to treat the big things like raising you from zero to adulthood as givens, and the little touches as the most important. It’s not just that they “didn’t have to” raise you, it’s that they could have possibly not conceived of it at all – either of not raising you (traditional family mindset), or of raising you (there are and have been societies where the men never know who their children are). It’s not a choice for them. They simply did what they did because that’s the only thing they knew. The possibilities are obvious to you – but not them. It is the same for them: they can see many things you can’t.
My dad has a saying he continues coming back to, and it goes something like this:
If you are told, then immediately you understand. If you are not told, then forever you will wander.
More broadly it means: you are in the end in Fortuna’s domain. Just as reason in many things can only begin after someone else decided to set an axiom for you, action can only begin in many areas if you are there to act. And how can you act, if you are not told of it, did not find out about it? Can you even choose to find out about something, if in your model of the world it doesn’t exist to begin with? If you do not act on something… is its end truly determined by you? For almost all things, someone told you about something and then you acted upon it. And their decision to tell you – was chance. This culture has demonized chance to the point of shrouding it in darkness. Everything which is out there is not “magic”, but “unknown”; not full of wonder, but rather simply something waiting to be revealed. We’ve even been treating unknowns like knowns, via the hard science of statistics and probability. Statistically you are going to lose money in gambling, statistically you will earn this much money with that major. These don’t tell you what is going to happen, they tell you what can happen.
Mixing those two concepts has led to such senseless lines like “give me a chance”. It’s not chance if it’s given and known about. If you overhear a conversation with information you could use for your work, or discover a sale while getting groceries at a supermarket, that’s chance. A chance is also not “given”, it is received. Just as you don’t know whether or not the other person is going to be a window of opportunity somewhere else, the other person doesn’t know exactly what you’re capable of. They don’t see you in the way you see yourself. When you are asked to be given a chance, what you are really asking is for them to take a chance.
But why should they take a chance with you?
There’s a question that never seems to get answered. No matter how much your resume has been beefed up or how well you’ve written your cover letter, this really tells us nothing about who you are. It tells us a little bit about what you can do and have done, but that doesn’t really tell us what will happen with this other thing you’re looking to do. Perhaps it’s the exact same task, and certainly you’re much more likely to be “given” a chance, but it’s no guarantee. Perhaps it’s a guarantee you’ll be able to perform at the same level of efficiency, but it’s not a guarantee that you will be chosen. Yes, you can see it in a matter of probability, and if the probability isn’t right here you could strike it somewhere else. “Only a matter of time”. The companies see this as well – it’s only a matter of time until they get someone just like you. The chosen ones are just, well, not you. And lest we forget, getting chosen – beginning the action – is all that matters. Before you are there, you are nothing.
Ah, but not every relationship is resume plus cover letter is it? Your friends and family will do things for you, without needing to go through applications or interviews or paying large sums of money. Why do they do that for you? Are you particularly amazing at everything you do? A net income for them, perhaps? They could always just use free webchats or go to random forums if they wanted to talk to people. Smarter people. Funnier people. Why would they interact with you?
Because they know you.
If it’s said it’s understood but if it’s not said it’s darkness. They do things for you because they know you – or in other words, they have experience with you. They have developed an understanding of you for themselves firsthand, and would rather deal with someone they know than someone they don’t know. Perhaps there are plenty of people better for whatever task they need completed, but where are they? Who are they? They know you, that you can do something about it, and they can contact you and have a good expectation that you will show up or that you will get it done well by the time it needs to get done. Fundamentally all relationships are about getting things done, but after they get done there’s the reward. We call it “friendship”, but that’s a rather aggregate/macro term. What happens is they are more willing to take chances with you. To tell you things, to show you things. This is what it means to have “connections”: You have people to “open doors” for you. In the “professional world” this is perhaps simply referrals or recommendations, but outside it could be anything you need. Perhaps, even things you didn’t even know you needed.
With friends, chance is no longer random. With friends, Fortuna favors you. With family, Fortuna can’t come between you at all. It is a given that, against all odds, the family and each member’s familial duty will continue to exist. There is no tragedy or some outburst which causes one party to simply decide to not contact the other anymore. With family, Fortuna always favors you. With friends, you are not alone. With family, you are never alone. You will always have others with you to stand against against the most powerful force in existence: the magical mysts, the “unknown”. In this time of too much equality, we have drugged ourselves to see that it might have been possible, that it would simply be an arbitrary decision, for some rich parent or some well-known person to provide for you or be your friend. That maybe, just maybe, you could’ve been in the right place at the right time. It just happened to not happen. A probability too low. But everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame one day, right? Let’s say it exists. Would you be able to see it coming? Do you know what to do once it arrives?
Or are you just going to flail and drown, only to regret that you missed the chance?
The family is the first team, the first group of people which brings us up above the caveman void. They picked our books, our toys for us before we knew how to see beyond simply colors and shapes. They cooked our food, sent us to bed before we understood nutrition and health. Told us to go try out certain sports, or bought bikes and other equipment for us, so we could begin doing something that would make us great. Perhaps they were a little too harsh here. Not firm enough over there. Can’t stop forgetting the other thing. But they were there. The description of that can be expanded as well. Maybe they’re a couple of hours away. A couple of days. But they want to be there, and will do whatever they think is in their power to get to your side. Not what you think is in their power, what they think is in their power. It doesn’t truly matter if you think they should drop everything immediately for the concern you have, if they don’t see and agree with your thinking they’re not going to do it. Obviously the ideal is a consensus, but even so, they are there.
It is not very illustrative to think of being thankful for things simply because “things could be worse”. Families aren’t good because it’s better to have someone there rather than dying on a pavement somewhere with only a crowd watching in the distance, though a family certainly prevents that from happening. The concept retains the same origins and thus the same problems as opportunity cost: it’s still based in “could be”. This culture and this time has become so enthralled with probability and expected values, so indoctrinated into the goals of pure math and science, that it has forgotten to look at what actually exists. It’s said that the best is the enemy of the good, and that’s exactly what has happened to this culture. It’s talked often now about how capitalism and consumerism has made the general level of happiness and content go down because people now realize they can never have that huge mansion, or that amazing car, or a private plane or simply sit and let the cash flow in. I’ve talked a couple of occasions on how too much knowledge, or rather, knowledge going to the wrong people, causes instability and chaos in social structure. But a broader problem is this: simply knowledge of knowledge. We laugh at philosophy majors because they spend all their time reading books and writing papers they forget to take care of themselves. Long hair, long beards, pants with holes and shirts with stains. Thick rimmed glasses. Almost anorexic bodies, where the men don’t look like men (except for the beards) and the women don’t look like women. Humans who aren’t really humans. We laugh, but we are all philosophy majors. What else do you call people who look not at what is, but what could be? Who look it up on google or wikipedia and are satisfied with simply “knowing” something, rather than doing something, anything at all?
What else do you call people who ignore what is that enables what could be, and looks just at what could be? Are we really humans, if we ignore those who enable us to do what we can, in favor of talking them down because they don’t do what we think they can do for us?
I am thankful for my family. I don’t care if it’s the best. Psychologists who talk about how every family is dysfunctional, political scientists or journalists who talk about how we have false beliefs or unreasonable courses of action, anyone who talks shit about us can go and put that shit back down their throats. My family is mine, and that’s what matters.
Personally, I believe the most important thing in life is being able to take advantage of an opportunity whenever it may come. If one manages that, one can bring about positive results through later effort. However, effort alone is not guaranteed to bring about such opportunities. Those opportunities will not wait for people to be ready. If you want to accomplish something… there will be times when you must make decisions, whether or not you are prepared for them.
-Mana Tsukuyomi, Muv-Luv
Who’s there to open an opportunity for you? Who’s going to be there, teaching, guiding, and providing you with practice for a time when you’re going to need everything you’ve got?
Who, by the nature of their existence, starts yours?