Several times in the past few days, I’ve said the phrase, “People are interesting.”
“Interesting” is one of the best words in the English language, the one time where having a word with multiple vague and even contradictory meanings can be useful. It can describe nearly any range of emotion. Conspiracy theories, as presented by a sincere believer in Area 51? Interesting. The lecture about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on roaming tinkers? Interesting. Your uncle’s tie-dye blazer? Interesting.
Really, when you say a person or thing is interesting, for all real purposes, you are stating that it exists and that you have an opinion about it. What that opinion is, and even if it’s positive or negative, is totally unknown (although tone and body language might give a hint).
So, do I think people are interesting in a good way, or in a bad way? Both, and not because I enjoy ambiguous, middle-of-two-extremes answers (although I do). Because that’s just the way reality works. Sometimes, I see a friend do something unexpectedly kind or I have a great discussion with a group of people or I listen to a concert that makes me happy to be alive.
And other times, I turn on the news and see violent protests, war, genocides, and, worst of all, political campaign ads. That would be depressing enough, but even in my daily life, most of my stress and anger and insecurity is related directly to other people.
Often, I end a long day playing over conversations in my mind, editing parts out and sticking in that perfect comeback. Or I wonder what certain people think of me, or how I should resolve a particular conflict, or why I just can’t get along with that one annoying person. And, in a state of emotional weariness, I want to run away to the mountains somewhere and be a hermit. Until I remember something very important.
Some things should be hard and draining and complicated.
Think about it this way—if you cared only about yourself and your own interests, everything would be very straightforward. Morality would be a simple cost-benefit equation with your happiness as the only variable. Relationships would be all take and no give. People would be props, plastic imitations of the real to be used for the scene you’re acting out and then tossed into storage until you need them again.
The terrifying part is, sometimes I want that. Sometimes, in my selfishness, I want to wish away misunderstandings and awkwardness and uncertainty by making everything clear and simple, even if that means losing the richness and complexity of what loving others should look like. There are days—and you’ve probably had them too—where the fact that people are complex has made me angry and frustrated instead of bringing me joy.
In a similar way, working on my relationship with God can be hard, even frustrating at times. But, unlike my interactions with other people, there’s something wrong here, something I don’t like to admit. Since A. God is perfect and B. Our relationship is still full of frustration, the only logical conclusion is that I am the problem.
I really wish I could believe that I am a good person, that in communication breakdowns or jealousy or near-feud-level grudges the fault is always with the other person. But whenever I worship something else above God or justify my sin or don’t understand an obvious moral lesson God is in the process of teaching me (or, worse, when I know exactly what God is trying to do and I fight it, kicking and screaming), I remember that I am not good.
One fallen person relating to other people would be bad enough. But none of us are good, and so our relationships with each other will have problems, and lots of them. In many cases, though, what makes relationships really hard is not just the fact that we’re sinful. It’s that we’re trying to choose what’s right.
When anger turns into shame, it’s because we wish we hadn’t said what we did. Much of the drama that comes out of romantic relationships is because we long to know and be known, but aren’t quite sure how to do that in the right way. We have regrets because we have a standard of right and wrong that looks back and tells us to do better next time.
That’s why I think it’s good that relationships with others are hard. It means we’re fighting back. And, besides, if everything in life was easy, it wouldn’t be very interesting, would it?