Remember those color-by-numbers books we used to play with as children? I used to spend a lot of time with those and the dot-to-dot picture books. I’ve always been a ‘love clear instructions’ kind of person. Receiving and especially giving. Just ask my hubsy 😉
The thing with the color-by-numbers is that the picture is already formed and visible. You don’t actually need to color it in to see the picture. Sure you have to focus a little longer to separate the important bits from the background but it’s so easy a child can do it. And yet it’s only when its colored that we class it as complete. We happily follow a set of provided instructions on what color to add into each pre-made section based on a number/color combination.
This is exactly what I see people doing to each other every day. It’s what I myself do every day. But it’s wrong.
How old is your child?
How much does he weigh?
How long does he sleep?
What size does he wear?
How old are you?
How much do you(or your husband) earn?
How long have you been married?
How long are you in your job?
What did you pay for your house?
How much weight have you lost?
How much did those jeans cost?
You think you know me because of my set of numbers? You think you know my child? We slot those answers into an overall pre-made picture, based on our initial impression.
How about – what hobbies do you like? Does your child like art or music? What are your dreams? What keeps you awake at night? What are your beliefs?
We don’t need the numbers to get the picture, we just need to focus a bit harder on what’s staring us straight in the face.
That’s what makes color-by-numbers different and more enjoyable than a standard coloring book. There’s a set of instructions, and how we love to follow them. Conversations are the social color-by-numbers.
The art of conversation seems to have gone out the window. Conversations have become shallow trading of number-based-facts like those kids’ card trading games where each character’s number represents a power.
Sometimes I see a lonely looking stranger and I want to ask ‘what is your story?’. People find it cathartic to get things off their chest. These days we’re all afraid to ask the right questions as it’s uncomfortable. There’s no map for that conversation. So we leave the person be, we leave them in their loneliness. It’s too uncomfortable because it strays from the narrative we’re used to telling and reading. Social media has trained us against sharing anything deeply meaningful as we try to limit ourselves to 140 characters. Brevity is, depth is self-indulgent; make the long story short will you?
There have been times in my life when I was young where I felt like the loneliest person in the world despite living in a capital city. I suffered a lot from depression.
If anyone had asked me ‘Are you ok?’ while sitting on a park bench I would have answered ‘Yeah thanks, fine’ as I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to feel burdened. I would have thought – and still do react this way today – that it’s too uncomfortable for the other person if I say ‘No I’m not ok’. It’s not shame; it’s simply not wanting to push someone else into that uncomfortable tangent off the standard narrative we are all so used to.
But if someone had followed up with ‘it’s ok to share if you want to, I’m happy to listen if you want to talk’ then maybe I would have swallowed hard and taken a few courageous steps to talk.
It’s my belief that mental health problems are so huge around the world today because we are all unused to sharing more than we should. Which is a paradox since social media has us sharing more than ever. Let’s stop yapping on social media and start talking to the person on your street that looks sad. Or just have an actual meaningful conversation with your neighbor.
What’s the worst that can happen?
If you misjudged the situation and I’m fine, I’m going to respect you for asking. Maybe that’s just me.