Transparency as Subversion: Open Source Feelings
I went to a belated New Years gathering last night with many good friends. We spent the first couple of hours going around and taking a few minutes each to speak about the past year and our thoughts about the year ahead. Kind of normal sounding, even routine perhaps, but actually it wasn’t at all.
We were a subset of a larger Bay Area community. What holds us together as a community is what many of us experience with each other as an exhilarating emotional honesty. So we went around talking about the shocks and bruises and sad disappointments of the past year, leaving me rubbed quite raw (in the additional light of the recent abrupt end of my relationship). But as the focal point passed from person to person, there was an unmistakeable spirit growing among us, a comfort and appreciation and even excitement that seemed counterintuitive to the predominant expressions of pain and confusion.
I realized that in sharing our sense of purpose, our life situations, our hopes and dreams and definitions of life ahead, we were doing more than narcissistically gazing inward (though, to be sure, there’s some of that going on too). Because we were sharing these dark feelings, these brooding uncertainties and fears, we were socializing our personal experiences in a crucial way. This society drives us apart, isolates us and hides our common experience behind walls of separation, usually walls that we reproduce everyday without even thinking about it. Shamed by our fears, guilt-stricken about our desires, humiliated by our inability to overcome our weaknesses, we tend to hold it in, to experience it as a personal flaw, individual failure. Just speaking it aloud among friends can be excruciatingly difficult.
And yet, the act of public declaration can be (and mostly was, last night) a subversive embrace of real community. “Subversive” to the commoditized, fetishized, hyper-individualized world that’s been built around us, and that we all too often reproduce without thinking. In this way, it echoes the concept of ‘open source’, a making transparent. When we open our hearts to friends and share our deeper feelings we create the possibility of building on each other’s hard work, rather than each of us making the same mistakes, feeling the same hoplessness in isolation, etc. (That’s not to say we won’t still go down similar roads and crash into similar dead-ends… sometimes nothing can alter a trajectory, even a solid warning!).
But it’s a lesson about the vitality of transparency, about the fundamentally common and social origins of our personal predicaments, and that we will not reach perfection alone. In fact, we are better off abandoning such an unreachable goal in favor of the hard, rewarding work of meeting and hearing and loving each other in real communities.
That said, and I understand well that these previous words may sound terribly squishy and horribly vague, I feel we have to take our sense of community to another level. Practical issues surround us, and until now, we mostly don’t think about them: e.g. health care, child rearing, getting old, housing, food security. We’re still on our own (or maybe in a partnership with one other) in this dog-eat-dog society, but if our joy and appreciation in community is to go beyond the narcissistic self-satisfaction that it can so easily slip into, perhaps it will be in finding ways to autonomously meet our real needs in community rather than as individuals. Something to talk about as we go forward, whether you’re in this particular group or not…