The cultures of the world have changed much in the 700 years since feudalism was Europe’s ‘hot new gift’ to society. If you ripped a fourteenth century peasant out of their straw-thatched home and somehow got them on Twitter, you would probably be solely answering frantic, God-fearing questions for the foreseeable future.
But after careful translation and explanation, one thing would still be abundantly clear: humans are and always will be walking contradictions.
Human languages are efficient at describing everything except the ironically unplanned ‘love child’ between our grey matter and the fact of the matter: love, and its adjacent cousin, intimacy.
Based on the millions of artifacts, documents, and tweets produced by us since time immemorial, you’d think that our willingness to admit how caught up we are in love would somehow ignite a sense of cultural candour. But no — the peasant would certainly agree — that would be too simple for us.
Even in our most intimate moments, when we’re allowing someone new purchase into the most vulnerable parts of us — in every sense of the word — humans get afraid.
Humans reacting negatively out of fear? What a hot take! But really, our collective unwillingness to vulnerability is a bit of a cultural phenomenon.
Take ‘Netflix and chill,’ by which the bashful — I mean uncreative — mask the embarrassing advent of planned or possible sexual intercourse with dinner and a movie.
Take the idea of ‘cuffing season,’ when for a whole five or more months, we collectively use cold weather and seasonal affective disorder merely as a complex gateway event for prospective coitus.
It’s one thing to commit to watching Disney’s Mulan, but if you’re using it as an excuse, like so many of us, to sugarcoat your vulnerabilities instead of ‘getting down to business’ to defeat some ‘buns,’ that speaks to a common impulse.
It’s in our nature to be skeptical — our mere existences are extant proof of that. It’s kept us as a species alive for a couple hundred thousand years.
Though we’ve learned to put aside our inward urges to create the civilizations and institutions that make us distinct from our feral ancestors, these are failsafes of a much different time. We feel the need to give ourselves excuses to be intimate, instead of just being intimate, simply for fear of being hurt.
And if you think these symptoms of our fear — our ‘Netflix and chill,’ our ‘cuffing season,’ or whatever other excuses we may conjure up — seem inconsequential, they are only the tip of our anxious, dubious iceberg.
I’m aware that I’m preaching to the choir; this isn’t news to anybody.
What should be, though, is the realization that we have the capacity to resist this side effect of fear that’s been homebrewed inside of us for millennia. It’s an audacious, courageous claim to choose trust over skepticism, to be vulnerable even when you aren’t ready for it.
And I don’t blame anybody for their doubt. Many cultures, including our own, gladly trade and reward empathy for cold exactness. The world is such a hurtful place that it’s practically revolutionary to be sincere.
It’s high time for us to break down the walls we’ve become so accustomed to building. Watch your movies because snuggling is the best, or because the plot is airtight, or because it gives you an excuse to procrastinate, or just about anything other than denying yourself your right to candour.
I’ll level with you — odds are not in your favour. You will get hurt by being wholehearted. And you probably already know that.
But I say that it’s worth it.
Suffice it to say, our world is not that of our forebears. Singlehandedly, humans forged societies with opportunity for class growth, the existence of equity, and the chance to diversify our narrow, single-world views. Being frank and heartfelt could be the next insurgency that brings us to be better than we ever were.
Even if it’s one small opportunity — one TV show, an obligatory date, a conversation you’re beating around the bush for — there exists a space for frankness that we can fill with probity.
And maybe if we’re broken when we come out on the other side, the cracks in our façades may give way to a better foundation that will last us for generations to come.