Friday, July 3, 2009

notepad: mending wall

No one seems to think it unnatural that people behave toward each other in the way they do; rather, most people think it natural for a certain kind of relationship to be in the norm. We're all humans of course, but I do wonder how far we can empathize with that ideal in the end.

I like sharing my observations regarding life with other people. Not a lot of people pick up the line with which I (or he, depending on the initiator) commence the meta-conversation; those who can I count my closer friends - perhaps simply because I can share and attempt to express life from my perspective. On the other hand, the bait is withdrawn from those who cannot; it's unreasonable to expect everyone to be sensitive to every variety of social signal after all.

It did prompt me to think about the kind of people whom I had this sort of relationship. Suddenly I recalled the fact that someone booked me as a chem tutor a year in advance (yes, ego boost, but that's not the point); he's just a year younger. Yet I'll be expected to fill the role of...a teacher; which in our society connotes a position of seniority. Sure I'll be able to mimic that kind of role, but I had an idea: wouldn't it be helpful for him to treat me as a friend coming over to study rather than as a formal tutor-figure? I figured I'd wear the old black school corporate T or something to signal to 1) remind him that we're not as disparate in age as my role may suggest and 2) create the impression that I'm a fellow student.

On hindsight, when one of the Y7s came back to be an officer, I had felt this most strongly. He's a decent fellow, smart guy; still is. But somehow something had changed and it wasn't his personality. I now believe it was his social role - now having a new kind of authority and consciousness of the social expectations placed on him, he seemed to me just - different.

I as a senior and as a junior. Just a year difference could mean so much in the end.

What of years of difference? Or even decades for that matter. I wondered how many adults I had a relationship with that could be comparable to that between me and my closer friends. I thought about teachers - given that I was just thinking about my chem tutorhood (and the standard I would have to reach to be worthy of that).

To be sure, I have thrown the meta-conversation bait out to my teachers (whether school or private). I did not expect to get a response, firstly because they cannot afford to give me a privileged position by taking the bait (even if they do see it), especially in front of other students. People are perceptive - misinterpretation of signals would be far too risky for said teachers to respond in a completely natural way. In spite of that, I sensed he left a subtle opening - a glimpse of his observations on life. I was satisfied with that.

Tutors don't have the same restrictions and for the most part, they understand my intent when I put out the line. A couple of adults from this category I speak my mind to. It feels strange to talk to adults in such a way so disparate from the usual expectation of a Singaporean student-teacher relationship. I much prefer the master-apprentice dynamic: an acknowledgment of the elder's superiority (an earned respect for demonstrated skill rather than an assumption based off age) and understanding of one's own developing status. I find this latter kind of relationship more meaningful - much like the relationship between closer comrades in my age group.

Age is probably just one of the things which determine our social role and hence the relationships we have. I mean, there's gender, intelligence, interests and all those other things. Gender's a huge barrier for me - I put it up myself last year in fact. But that's another issue.

I sometimes wonder why we can't all be really close friends and share our observations on life with the people who we talk to. I like doing that. It makes me more conscious of my life as a journey (yes, whatever, I may be able to guess what you, the possible IB reader are thinking) where I gain something meaningful in every communication with another mind (not just 'mind' - people are more than that of course).

Why the need for barriers then? Artificiality. Readers will draw their own ideas of this word in this context, but sometimes we're 'artificial' without even thinking. I know decent, artificial people who build fences without even knowing it, without any malice some of us may associate with the idea of an 'artificial appearance'.

Yet, for a rationale as yet unknown to me, society needs barriers.

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