“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
I’ve been thinking about Melville’s words lately as they relate to the human species. I’ve been thinking how we are all inevitably connected, yet craze isolation. We disconnect ourselves, detach ourselves from the common norms of social interaction to create our own little bubbles, inviting only a few people in at a time. We put up walls and barriers to keep others out. And yet we remain, connected.
In the most existential terms, imagine yourself an alien looking down upon the world. Everywhere people are avoiding each other, passing by each other on the street without an acknowledgment, perhaps missing some vital human experience that comes from interaction and “connectiveness”. And they wouldn’t even know it. Just a bunch of atoms colliding and repelling and splitting, with a few cases of attracting, scattered here and there.
We are some times burdened with social etiquette that makes it okay to say some things, and not other things. To say anything beyond those socialized norms is to appear strange, because those walls exist, because we don’t feel connected to someone, even though we are. And in those moments; in those precise seconds of missing that human experience, I some times think we are missing opportunities. Opportunities that perhaps render us fearful of being honest and blunt, perhaps fearful of being misunderstood. And so, so many things in this life time go unsaid, and maybe that’s why poetry was created.
And I suppose the physical presence makes it that much harder.
People have no problem in saying what they want to say in the virtual world. People are never more honest than they are in the virtual world, when all physical interaction is absent.
A quick look at Facebook and you can see how the interaction differs; how human beings differ. We add people whom we’ve never met as friends. And those people accept the request for friendship on the same premise. We comment on people’s photos, people we might not even know, and we tell them how beautiful we think they are. And those people accept that. We share the intimacies of our lives, and exchange the small salient details that would slip unnoticed in the physical world. And I think that’s why movies are so fantasy-like, with characters saying and doing the most random things, and making it look easy. From a character standing up to someone with no regrets, to characters declaring their love for one another. And these are scenarios that play out perfectly on the silver screen, and in our regretful minds where we vocalize them with “I should’ve said”.
So maybe when Melville said a thousand fibers connect us, he really meant optical fibers, because it seems the digital age has rendered us unburdened with formalities, verbal etiquettes, and self-censorship orbiting around the emotional galaxy. But it’s virtual; it’s not real, which is not to say that it’s fake, it’s simply contrary to that human inclination to define all that is real, by all that is physical.
Yet imagine, all of that taking place in the real world.
Imagine seeing a random person as you walk down the street, and saying hello to them; requesting their friendship, telling them how beautiful you think they are, saying the most random thing that comes to you. Imagine their first thoughts, their first reaction; imagine yours. No underlying sub-purpose or sinister intent. No strings. No piracies. No charades. Just honesty. Just a desire, an instinct, to fulfill that human need.
And in that single moment, that precise second, that glance, that physical engagement, that verbal grafitti, we are acknowledging, if only for that second, that we are all connected.
And I think some times, when sitting in a public place just watching people pass by, that if we were ever to have such an exchange in the physical context, if we were ever to be brave enough to say what we want to say unburdened and unrestrained: that we would feel those thousand fibers that connect us all, come alive…
…in a single moment.