The Paradox of Life

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YOLO is the motto of this generation. We, the youngsters, have glorified “living in the moment”. Yet, many, even most, of us spend too much time worrying in order to have a better future. Right from the time we enter our teenage, we start worrying. We worry about getting good grades and excelling in extracurricular or getting accepted into the program of our choice in our dream college or university. Then, we worry about getting an internship while in college, or getting a job right out of college. Then, we worry about getting promotions or getting enough resources and experience to fulfill our entrepreneurship dream, if we have one.

Amongst all this, how much time do we spend on ourselves? How much time do we spend without worrying about our future? How much time do we spend living in the moment? Hardly any. And when people realize this, they’re sadly no longer young. I see and hear a lot of older persons talking about how they spent a lot of time to shape a better future, whilst forgetting to live in the present. Such is the nature of being human.

Humans are paradoxical beings, we tell lies to ourselves knowing perfectly well what the truth is but choosing to ignore these truths. We lie to ourselves that we are okay, that our independence is all we need, that all we need is another better job, just one more million, just one more night, just one more episode of money heist and you sleep, just one more hour at work, that we can actually make it on our own, that we can handle it all on our own but deep down we know that we need an anchor in other people to do all this. That one hour won’t be enough and so forth.

For this reason, I have been forced to re-evaluate my life as I have done many times before but this time with more intensity. I have been fighting my own demons, as is everyone else, but one at a time. I have decided to evaluate my life on the basis of quality versus quantity. I want to write more but more doesn’t always mean better and better is what I’m concerned with. So, while I want to write more, I also want my more to be better but instead of writing more while striving to be better, I slouch in mediocrity; trying to convince myself that perhaps if I took more time in one article (a lie I tell myself everyday) it would be better and so in the end I end up writing less or nothing. The paradox of my life.

I have lived half of my (probable) life based on what I have seen, felt, went through, tasted, read about and observed (as well as ate and drank of course), and some paradoxes in life have stood out more than others. I say probable because I’m not even sure I have even started living. Being an aspiring astrophysicist (now what profession is that?). Being an aspiring mathematician, I have taken the time to calculate how much time I have actually lived life.

Now let us do some quick maths on my life. Being 24 years old and sleeping an average of 8 hours a day, that is a total of 70,080 hours slept, equivalent to 2920 days (8 years). So, of my 24 years lived I have already slept 8 of them. 16 waking years left. I have been educated in the Kenyan 8-4-4 system so it’s safe to assume I have been in school for 16 years. Assuming I dedicated the average 10 hours of schooling every day, that accounts for 58,400 hours equivalent to 2,433 days (approx. 6.5 years). Subtract that from the 16 and you have 9.5 waking years left.

According to my calculations, I was enrolled in primary school at age 7. That is to say there were those early years of my childhood that I don’t remember and couldn’t have done anything productive with them. Having already assumed I have been sleeping 8 hours a day since I was a child, I am left with 16 waking hours every day for six years spread across for breastfeeding, kindergarten, play and other stuff children do. That accounts for 35,040 hours equivalent to 4 years. Subtract 4 from 9.5 and you have 5.5 years left. Now let’s go back to campus. I sleep 8 hours, School for 10 (but you all know that is impossible) and pretty much waste the other six on booze women, parties and other indulgences. That is 8,760 hours equivalent to 365 days or 1 year). Now we have 4.5 left. That is the amount of time you have for self-development.

Let’s go back a little further and examine what I did with rest of the extra hours in high school and primary school. You probably know the answer to that already. We’ll probably end up subtracting another one or two years. But let’s give me a benefit of doubt and award me the 4.5 years. Distribute that evenly across the years since I started schooling. That gives an average of 3.9 hours every day devoted to self-development since I was age 7. It is highly improbable that I would do that. I want to make my writing and my life better, but how much time do I actually put into it. Now make your own conclusions and recommendations on your own life based on that.

Now back to our story on paradox. I never wish to be easily defined. I’d rather float over other people’s minds as something strictly fluid and non-perceivable; more like a transparent, paradoxically iridescent creature rather than an actual person.

Even though the line quoted above was found in Franz Kafka’s diaries, the line is present in probably all of our written and unwritten diaries. Being paradoxical is a code of being human.

Man is a social animal, we need bonding, etc. This is as known to us as the gait of our aficionado when you can make them out from blurred images. As yet, at the same time, we travel to our friends’ houses, or travel with them or walk with them with our headphones on; we have forgotten to connect even when we are placed in close physical proximity. We now invest in relationships, invest in time. We expect some predicted returns.

We no longer just live in the moment. We need to maximize our returns from the moment, by connecting as intensely we want, with who we want, and in multiple directions we want, to be validated by how others want. We’re always trying to connect. None of us wants to be lonely. Being lonely is shameful. Being lonely is being invisible in an impressionable world where we have to leave carbon footprints. Being lonely is like that button of baked potato in your microwave.

Yet, none of us can avoid being lonely at some point in our lives. It could come when you have your first child or last; or have your first big achievement in life or first big disappointment. It could come with a phone full of contacts. It could come with the feeling that you have just two friends. And it could also go with the feeling that you still have two friends; depends on where you stand on the spectrum.

The pain of being alone leads us to seek connection—to build bonds with others. The taste of loneliness is what keeps us searching for the entities who make us feel happy, and in the process, we get a plant, a pet, a cuddly toy, a cuddly person, or listen to that song by Mike Posner or Martin Garrix (I am listening to these two a lot these days).

The pain of loneliness is also what keeps us off from other people, to protect ourselves, to stop us from being touched on ‘still tender’ areas. It becomes a vicious cycle, by which we push back others from us and build walls around ourselves and declare we don’t need any humans and act in ways that goes against being human. We dream of our lives in specific ways, and many of us live those dreams, but in half-resolutions.

Now, how do we seek these connections? In recent times, Social Capital has been a hot concept, not only in social research but also invoked in business circles and entrepreneurship, in well-being, in reducing economic problems, in status-attainment, in reducing crime, and so on. Governments of developed countries, with their influx of visibly different immigrants, are getting more and more determined on ways to develop social capital, so as to achieve integration.

So, what is Social Capital? Put very broadly, Social Capital is the resource, the capital you have when you are part of some group or network, having certain norms of social obligation. It is basically “looking after each other” based on the expectation that when the time comes, anybody would return the favor, because as a member of the group, you are obligated to help each other. Like you help your sister/brother. Like your friend tells you how to smoke and not get caught in teenage.

Like your friend on Facebook who likes or comments on every post of yours and you wonder whether they read it at all or just do it out of friendly obligation, but you can’t say anything because a like is a like and the probability of more visibility is always welcome.

There are ways to develop social capital. One way is you focus on context. For instance, I am Kenyan and I would bond well with anyone coming from Kenya if I met them on another continent or country. You just had a break-up and believe all women are to blame for it and you find a long-lost brother in a person shouting “feminazi!!” to random women on social media. Silicon Valley people think alike and are always interested in start-ups. People born in the 90s are found to be over-nostalgic, more than people smoking joints and dancing the hippie songs in the 70s. I’m sure you get the idea.

Context matters. It is how people find, develop and sustain their social capital. This is a very regular event the world over. However, the more precious you hold dearly your context, and use it as a carving knife to cut out good social capital in your life, the less bridging it would be, and most likely, less resource-rich, or to put it bluntly, less useful. It could be strong, bonding social capital. But it wouldn’t bring in diversity of people in your network and you could have boring, drab, predictable, sterile, robotic ingredients in your life.

Allow me to explain. If you’re looking for jobs, what could become more useful is just not what you know but who you know. If you know more people like you (based on similar contexts and based on fellow-feeling of “being on the same boat”), you have other job-seekers in your networks; in other words, they are friends or rather, people who are in competition with you in the labor market (and other allied ones).

You might have that cousin or friend of a friend who you somewhat know, who could do a referral of you somewhere to get a job for you, but you don’t know that person well enough to put in any request or be persuasive in any way. They are your weak ties. Weak, but probably more useful than your bonding social capital.

They are your bridging social capital but they could lack the bonding to make any impact, or you could find yourself in the chicken-and-egg situation of: getting a job first to make turn those bridging contacts into bonding contacts, or find that to have good social capital you need good economic social capital (money), or information to events and areas where such people go roaming (playing golf, but you don’t even know how to play golf). And all through your life you do the juggling act of prioritizing and building bridging and bonding social capital. In this, if you belong to any marginal population or are oppressed and deprived in any way, your task gets even more difficult.

We want to work hard, and in the process stay away from our families, kids, people we love, to be able to buy them things they love. I’m not sure where the balance is in all of this, since if we just introspect for a bit, we can see that the things-tangible, material things—that we hoped to acquire in the expectation that they’ll make us and our loved ones happy, has changed today from what they were, even five years back. Admission to a good university, good grades, a nice job, the house we’d want, the spouse we’d want (but isn’t ours-we all have that one person we want but is already taken)—all of these targets get changed.

And yet, in our hope to be “successful”, we keep pursuing seemingly achievable dreams of being the best in our daily drudgery, just to have more money, to have better careers, to be able to buy that car which we (or a loved one) like, all of these choices being so brazenly incompatible with the meaning we keep looking for in our lives.

We remain vastly unaware of what our kids found mesmerizing in the day. Our kids leave home and we stay in, full of artifacts and memories that we bought to make them happy. We fall out of love with our spouses and remain in a marriage just for the kids. We lose touch with our friends and wish things were a little better than liking each other’s posts on Facebook. And eventually, one day, all our loved ones leave from our life.

Then we realize we have spent a major chunk of our lives working for others, in pursuing thoughts of self-actualization and making them happy, while we have spent less and less time with them and drifted bit by bit, from them.

We think we have got it all figured out, that the meaning of life lies in successfully cracking the formula society or our community tells us. We stop reveling in the moment, we stop staying up late, we stop sleeping adequately, we stop speaking our minds lest we get derailed in our path of being successful—all for work, so that we have “some life” in our living.

And yet, in our heart of hearts, we realize how far from truth we have walked out from; that there is less life in our living. The small things that we keep counting as insignificant, as things that don’t matter, are what balances, and holds our life.

©C. J NJOROGE

Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.

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About Cooper Jose Njoroge

Is a great thinker, writer, philosopher, poet, photographer, footballer, a student of life and politics, an aspiring mathematician and soon to be physicist. He is imaginative, analytical and highly unconventional. Tells as it is and sees things for what they are rather than what they would rather be.

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