See, I, when I'm bored, ask my friends what their biggest fear is. Two things fascinate me about this: first, that people almost always answer, and second, that 99% of the time, their answer is usually either "failure" or "loneliness", both of which reduce to "insignificance" (Heck, my answer is "loneliness" too). That's mind-boggling to me. I mean, firstly... Here are people who I may not have had a serious conversation with in my life volunteering their deepest insecurities to me, hardly the most trustworthy person ever. And secondly... That we all fear that, at the end of our lives, we won't have made any difference, that we won't have mattered (Sometimes, I think that everyone in the world needs an "It's A Wonderful Life" moment). A quote from the final Oprah show: "I've talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?" A friend suggested to me the other day that maybe that's the reason that people fear death: because, when you die, in your mind, you stop mattering to other people. That said, I want to give you what the title promised. They may not be easy (okay, so I wasn't completely truthful, but I'm pretty sure it's Marketing Strategy Number ONE that pithiness is more important than accuracy), but they ARE worth it, I think.
- Listen more than you speak. - It's almost never interesting to talk to someone who rambles on for days without letting you get a word in edgewise. At any rate, sometimes, if you listen to people, they can sincerely surprise you. I'll admit that I have trouble with this, being the most talkative person alive, but I always try to let people have their say, especially in serious conversations. It may be cheesy, but it should be said anyways: people can die, but ideas can't, and by listening, you're allowing someone to leave their mark on the world.
- Be willing to share yourself with people. - I don't suggest you walk around telling complete strangers your deepest, most private thoughts, but living in a shell or bubble is the easiest way to ensure that your existence won't matter. Also, when you share yourself, you make it easier for others to share themselves with you, and that feeling, of two people meeting in the middle, is wonderful. It feels like two diplomats meeting in the middle of a battlefield, completely vulnerable, and yet... risking everything, going out on a limb, to make a connection where there wasn't one before. The feeling when it does work out is worth the pain and heartache when it doesn't. (I suggest you guys watch this video; Sarah Kay is lovely and explains it more eloquently than I could ever hope to.)
- Go to the funerals of the ones you love. - Funerals are depressing. That's the sad truth, they are. There's no way around it. But (SPOILER ALERT for The Great Gatsby, one of my favorite books ever) there's a reason Gatsby's funeral scene where almost no one shows up is the most heartbreaking scene of the whole book. THAT is my biggest fear: that I will live a life that will lead to a Gatsby funeral. I want to know that, even in death, I matter, and I am remembered. If you can't show the ones who have passed away (which you may believe you can or can't, depending on your religious leanings), you can at least show the rest of the world and tell them that this person was good, and that they did matter. Funerals are a good place to start.
One final note: I wanted this essay to be an optimistic one, as used to my usual miserable stuff about the nonexistence of happiness. I hope you can see that this is really a beautiful thing. We're all the same, trying to hide our insecurities and fears and goals when all we really want to know is that we've made a difference. Tell someone that they've made a difference in your life. They may be confused now, but years from now, that knowledge will be the thing that assures them that their life was worth living.
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