Why We Do Better

In the physical world, echoes muddle. An echoing voice (say, a friend calling out to you in the forest) gets softer, cloudier with each bounce. We hear the pitch, but the message is garbled.

In the informational domain, echoes do the opposite: they clarify. Take an idea and listen to how it echoes in the history of literature, or philosophy, or political action. With each echo, each occurrence, the theme distills, the message sharpens. When history echoes, we understand it more clearly.

This short movie visualizes a speech by Alan Watts. Watts reminds us of something we knew as toddlers:

“The physical universe is basically playful…the same way [as] dancing. You don’t aim for a particular spot in the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance.”

When we watch partners dance, we don’t observe the angle of their elbows, the sway of their hips and grasp for a greater purpose. The purpose is the dance.  We may understand our entire life in this way: the goal is not achievement or completion, but engagement, expression, presence.  In this way, we dance with every moment.

Seven-hundred years before Watts, the poet Rumi echoes:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
In this way, we dance with every moment.

There are many ways to dance. You might smash cake. I might make soup. (More echoes.)

You don’t have to change anything you’re doing. You don’t have to stop; you haven’t been going anywhere. You’ve been dancing the whole time.

In this way, we dance with every moment.


Why We Love

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

We communicate more about ourselves in play than in conversation. Every preschooler understands this.

Which is why I mourn the state of adult socialization, so centered around talking, endless talking. Talking over potato bisque. Talking over New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Talking over Rihanna. Pairs or small groups, asking questions they won’t remember the answers to, making jokes they heard somebody else tell. How else will we make friends in the big city, if we don’t talk to our coworkers about our favorite bands and strong opinions about Uber?

So we talk and talk (and drink) and talk, even while we suspect it is the least efficient, most misleading form of expression.

The common exception is dance. We dance together.

To dance together is to create together; after hours of taking shots and yelling into each others’ ears, we stop talking and express ourselves in an honest and direct way. Acts of creativity need no explanation; watch a person dance and you instantly understand something about them that is beyond words.

Even then, many people (especially Americans) miss the point altogether by confusing social dancing with a sales pitch for their genitals. As charming as a guy on Tinder trying to sell you life insurance.

Should you want to turn strangers into friends, friends into family, or family into friends, plan your next gathering over watercolor and paper. Fill your dinner party with bongos and guitars and Casio keyboards. There is, in fact, a great reason to play golf with your boss.

You’ll learn more about your date making dinner with them than eating dinner with them.