Quite a few times upon a time, I used to like watching the once very popular and now endlessly repeated American sitcom Friends. I remember in particular one episode which featured a character called Fun Bobby. Fun Bobby was not a main character, but appeared occasionally. He was universally loved by all and sundry, and let me tell you, it is really hard to be loved by sundry. Bobby was a larger than life, life and soul of the party, everyone's friend, always making everyone laugh and have a good time kind of fellow. Perhaps this is how he got his nick-name.
But, in the episode in question, suddenly the main characters started asking each other, 'Have you seen Fun Bobby? What has happened to Fun Bobby? He isn't fun any more?'
As the episode progressed, we find out that Fun Bobby was, in fact, an alcoholic, and that he had recently given up drinking. The apparent change in personality was so noticeable that everyone was talking about it, and nobody could accept it. Bobby wasn't cracking jokes any more, organising parties any more, easily found in the bar any more or full of banter any more. Some tried hard to get Bobby to start drinking again.
The episode struck quite a chord with me because at the time I had stopped drinking. As a young man I enjoyed playing rugby and the Rugby Club culture involved rather a lot of alcohol consumption. Even if it was not a full addiction, it was probably at very unhealthy levels, but I did not give up because of that. One day, I just woke up and realised: I am totally bored with this! I had had enough. It was fun while it lasted, I had no reason to condemn others for continuing drinking however much they liked, but I had very clearly and very suddenly had enough, and that was that.
I was remarkably surprised at the range of reactions that I got after this decision made itself. Some drinking friends seemed to get very angry about it, as though I was somehow betraying them and their 'cause'. It was shocking really, the level of anger that it created. Just like Fun Bobby, I started to be called 'boring' and various other things, and it seemed really ironic. Here were a group of men who had pretty much done exactly the same thing every Friday and Saturday night since they were about 16 years old, and because I had broken away from that repeating pattern, I was being called boring, and facing real hatred for it. Even though I never once suggested to anyone that they should also give up drinking, they seemed to assume that my position was somehow challenging their lifestyle.
Life's patterns tend to repeat themselves, and in more recent years, I have found that another 'addiction' started to become utterly boring. That addiction was to the idea 'me' and everything that goes along with it - opinion, judgement, interest in telling 'my story' and listening to the personal stories of 'others' or to their opinions about this or about that. Interest also waned in all kinds of person-oriented activities, which accounts for pretty much everything. So, for instance, I wasn't really that interested in who won this or that sport, what happened in the soap operas, the plot of a book or a movie, some bit of gossip about this person or that person, celebrities, newspapers, politics ...... pretty much everything really.
Once again, this was not in any way a philosophical position or undertaken because I thought it would be 'good for me'. There was just a sudden realisation that it was essentially just the same thing over and over and over and over again. Slight differences in the detail, but more or less the same endless cycle of value judgement and goal-striving.
And once again I have noticed the same vehement reaction from many, if not most of those who are still on the merry-go-round. Once again called boring or mad or cold or heartless for getting off the ride and having a break from the addiction. Often real vehement anger when I honestly make it clear that I am just not interested in the personal stories of 'others', or their moral values or their politics, or their religious beliefs, or their football team or their terrible holiday experience. Once again the very odd reactions that seemed to angrily insist that mine was an evangelical position even though I would say over and over 'do whatever you like, none of my business'.
It seems that there is a fundamental hollowness in all our endeavours to make our apparent selves 'happy', and yet at the same time an intensely strong reluctance to let them go, and that reluctance creates the tension that explodes into those angry exchanges and condemnatory judgements. Right now the reader may well be feeling a deep sadness, and thinking that this article is desperate, defeatist, even suicidal. Such is the nature of the intense life addiction and death fear that belief in a separate 'I' engenders. That addiction and fear continually perpetuate the judgement-strife cycle.
But just like being called boring by a street alcoholic when I turn down a swig of his brown paper-covered whisky, those angry voices can be seen for what they are, there really is no turning back.
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