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Let's Get Basic

Let’s stop taking ourselves so seriously and play the “basic” game for a bit. Not everyone has to wear Vineyard Vines and yoga pants or drink pumpkin spice lattes and speak in Beyonce-isms (#fierce). We should feel free to step past the superficial commonalities in our culture, particularly when they clash with our individual interests. We don’t have to be clones. Yet, some degree of materialism and conformity is required for forming relationships with other members of our community. We sometimes have to allow ourselves to be “basic” because our complex human natures often call for it.

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No relationship can exist without some superficial elements. Most people don’t begin introductions or initial conversations with deeply personal or existential topics. We don’t philosophize about the meanings of the stars because there’s more to human interaction than deep thought. We talk about the weather and attractive people and difficult workloads—and in this way, we begin to construct a solidarity and community that will later serve as the foundation of the relationship. When friends have gathered enough experiences and mutual understandings to break the ice, they can sustain conversation without needing hefty prompts such as, “What is my place in the world?” or “What do I mean to myself?”

There are exceptions to this example, of course, but they comprise the minority. Consider, for one, the “high” that follows retreats or service trips: Generally, the closeness that participants feel over the course of a weekend or break fades quickly. Without a continuance of the environment in which these intense bonds were forged, the relationships fade into awkward walk-bys or the “BC look-away.” The depth of those earlier conversations can’t be sustained because it's unnatural to the rhythm of everyday life. It’s like that relationship skipped a few steps during its formation. Eventually, gaps in basic, material connections reveal themselves, and the relationship disappears or assumes a shadowed version of itself as a result.

To some extent, superficial conversations also reflect basic rules of society and conversation. If someone begins a conversation regarding a certain topic, you generally attempt to remain on that topic. You show you’re listening and involved so as to connect more easily with the other person. But if a friend wants to talk about Twitter wars and you’re constantly rolling your eyes or attempting to turn the conversation into an existential moment, you’re much less likely to connect in that instance. If this disparity occurs often, you’re increasingly less likely to connect with that person whatsoever.

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Humans are unique in their abilities to form complex thoughts that transcend a material or animal state of being. Depth of thought increases our appreciation for one another and the number and manner of ways in which we can identify with one another as uniquely human. However, it also reveals a greater range of individual traits—including more pronounced differences. Consider humans compared to squirrels, for example. Most squirrels look and act about the same, with few traits to distinguish them. They don’t live for fulfillment, and I doubt they achieve it. They don’t enjoy the experience of discussing their thoughts and dreams, but they also don’t suffer from feelings of alienation or loneliness. We can be blessed by our uniqueness, but we can also be cursed by it. Its benefit primarily depends on the degree to which we limit our philosophizing.

Individuality is exceptionally important, but moderation and substance are also significant. If we fixate entirely upon unsubstantiated thoughts and higher feelings, we’ll be more aware of both the uniqueness of the human condition and the isolation it can offer. To balance ourselves, we need some measure of superficiality. We need material observations, bad jokes, and behaviors that help us conform to the “norm.” We need colloquial language, exaggerated mannerisms, and knowledge of the activities of celebrities we’ll never meet so that we can join in on judging their lives. So, regarding the yoga pants, pumpkin spice lattes, and references to pop culture: No, we don’t technically need them. We would, in fact, survive without them. However, we need elements of this superficial culture in order to connect with one another in a materialistic fashion and, by extension, avoid alienation. It’s our own version of the animal state, translated into a culture that’s at times ridiculous.

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