Will The Real You Please Show Up?

A few months ago I had come to appreciate the American culture of greeting a stranger with a smile (Okay! I’m not sure if it’s American, but… and hey! Not everyone does that. So don’t be alarmed or inwardly abuse me if it didn’t happen to you). Anyway, I liked it, as it made me feel welcomed. But after a while, I began to wonder if the smile and the greeting – “Hi! How are ya!” – was more instinctual than a conscious and intentional address. And here is why: the person coming in front of me would ‘more often than not’ (this is so Dhonish) ask how I am, but would not care to wait to hear my response. I thought that people were just being fast-paced. So I decided to put it to the test. On two different occasions on my way to class I did respond to the question “How are you?” with “not good,” and in both instances, both parties continued to walk by without a look or word. I just had to ask myself if people today have inadvertently mastered the art of masquerading authenticity. We are so stuck up with our individualism and protecting our private spaces, that we have forgotten what it is to really know the other person. Even our knowing has become superficial. We seem to have forgotten to ask the right questions to people. Even if we do, our questions lack genuinity.

Social media has been a blessing! I know it better – or you wouldn’t be reading this at all. I have begun to appreciate it all the more now that I am away from home. But one cannot ignore the fact that we have at times come to value the virtual over the real, to the extent that we have complicated the simple steps in forging friendships and no longer want the responsibility of maintaining one. We prefer non-personal interactions because we get to control it, control the other. We start, we pause, and we end conversations according to our schedule. Our time and our calendar determine the enthusiasm with which we converse.

It is time we get real with people. Let us stop this pretense; let us cease being artificial and be real. To be real is to ask questions that matter; to be real is to have the courtesy to acknowledge a voice different to ours; to be real is to stop, turn around and listen to what has been said; to be real is to have our private spaces disrupted; to be real is to invest time; to be real is to say now the words we would later not regret having not said. When we are real our schedule will call for rescheduling. It’s as simple as that. Just be open to it. Embrace serendipity.

Take a moment to think about this: how many times have we refrained from asking questions that matter to people that matter, due to the fear of having to spend a few extra minutes conversing? I am sure all of us have. The moment we accidentally meet someone or receive a random text or call, our clock starts ticking. This can be fatal. If we derive happiness, joy, pleasure, satisfaction, and peace from (doing) so many things, why not experience the same from people that are around us? Why not give it a try? Why not be genuine about it?

I am sidetracking now but I must. I have not been in the academic world for too long. But guess what, I have been in it long enough to be tired of people who talk about respecting others, honoring difference, recognizing interconnectedness, valuing fellowship, and still cannot get past their egoistic, self-sufficient, narcissistic selves to have one, just one meaningful conversation to know the other. Enough is enough! Let’s get rid of our ‘social self’ that in many ways is anti-social, take a step away from this fast-paced consumerist world to pause, reflect, connect, and just get to being real.

Will the REAL you please show up?

By Arvind Theodore

Arvind Theodore is a PhD student at Union Theological Seminary, NYC in the field of Social Ethics. His interests lie in the areas of liberation ethics, Dalit studies, protest and resistance, gender and sexuality studies, and cinema and caste. Arvind is also the author of Church and Human Sexuality and blogs at Reflections. 

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