Misery, the Patient and the Medicine Man (A short story on Social Media and Us)
I chanced upon him and he looked miserable. His eyes begged for comfort, the kind couched as an advice or better, as a revelation. So I thought. My possibly right judgment if not acted upon might have left me feeling as though I had betrayed my conscience. But what was I to tell him? He is not a bad man. He is not a weak man. Well, I couldn’t confidently even say I knew him. All I knew was he looked miserable or his eyes looked miserable. But if the eyes were not really providing a transparent window to his soul then I could really be wrong. The comfort in his eyes today was too far away from those in his pictures – the pictures with the thousand likes. So what could a man moved, based on a possibly wrong assessment, to advice a potentially miserable other man, advice him about, and be right?
My first words after hello were “maybe, you don’t have to live your life on Facebook.” My words sounded foolish upon speech though they had seemed great as a thought. How was he going to feel about such a question? What was he going to think of me – a man who could ask another this question, after a hello? I was now the miserable one. He could be thinking that I needed help. That made me feel more miserable. The opposite pair of eyes was not a mirror good enough to self-confirm the misery in mine but I could feel the bulging misery behind my eyes and heavily so.
But he smiled. He killed my misery or thought of misery with his puffing cheeks and culturedly exposed teeth. I was now his Patient. He had cured me. He then asked, “What you said seems smart. How come I never thought of it?” Now, with such a question I could be the Medicine Man or still be the Patient depending on its latent function. Misery was coming back.
“Maybe, social media provides you with an opportunity to construct a reality that is not the reality – a reality that your reality cannot back but a reality you like.”
After my first question, this was always going to be the follow-up. Under different circumstances however, I would have felt like I was in control but not today. My misery was proving malignant. Did I hurt him? Did I sound foolish? I may still have been on the earlier journey of curing his misery but every step of it sounded like imposing misery on myself or at least, revealing mine. Was I becoming an accidental Patient or I had always been one due to my pretensions of being a Medicine Man?
Then he smiled again. Then I was cured again. Then he kept smiling. Then I was miserable again. What was he thinking about me? Does he think I need more help than he initially thought? Then he said, “You are right.” But I had to ask him why he thought I was right. Was he actually constructing a reality that is not the reality? But if I did not know he was, then why did I say so in the first place? Misery compounded, the more I thought. Is thinking now a source of misery? Should I then stop thinking? Since when did the lack of thought become vaccination?
“As I said, you are right. Every picture I post is of me but not me. It is usually the best out of many. The words I use there everyday are not my everyday words. The confidence I exude on that space is limited to that space. The progress I show the world obfuscates my many challenges – my hunger, my anger, my heartbreaks, my tears, my hate, my sins, my ignorance…”
In one breath I was feeling like a sage. “Aah, I was right after all”. In another, I was feeling miserable for getting a man to dig into his soul and be so frank about his struggles. I was feeling like God listening to the prayer of a helpless son and that was making me more miserable. Who am I to attempt wearing the shoes of the big One? It was going to get worse, the misery. He asked, “my friend, show me how not to live my life on social media. Show me how to wash my dirty linen outside. Show me how to put my bad foot forward. Show me how I should ignore the opportunity to construct a reality that gives me happiness even if it is not the reality.”
Maybe my analyses of his words were making him smarter than he actually was but I couldn’t simply say, “just get off Facebook”. This man had situated his question very well on the legs of my first statement. I did not say he should get off Facebook, I said he should not live his life there. Was he not already doing that by living a different life there? Then the relieving thought came, “I had allowed him to confuse me”. What I actually meant was he should not post every detail of his life there. But my relief abandoned me again for another thought made it clear to me that he was right, it was not his life or all of it.
I was silent. Not exactly lost for words but dreading a post-speech misery syndrome. I was the Patient. He was the Medicine Man. I went to cure misery but got diagnosed.
He was however not in the mood to allow his questions to go hanging. If he sincerely needed answers, was he then the Patient and I, the Medicine Man? But, how could a Patient cure the Medicine Man?
This piece was originally published here: https://kwakubonti.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/misery-the-patient-and-the-medicine-man-the-social-media-paradox/