Whenever I ask a guy to describe a person he’s just met, he usually says something along the lines of “He’s pretty cool. He does x” and “x” is usually “he plays the drums” or “he’s in finance” as if that’s supposed to tell me everything I needed to know about this person. But men’s fear of elaboration aside, I couldn’t help but wonder, if someone were to describe me to another person, what would they say?
I recently attempted to read The Little Prince for the first time. To be honest, I understood little about this trippy Prince’s voyage to space, but one thing he said really struck me. (At least, I think the passage means what it means. You never know with this psychedelic story).
“When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, "What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?" Instead, they demand: "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?" Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him… If you were to say to the grown-ups: "I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof," they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: "I saw a house that cost $ 20,000." Then they would exclaim: "Oh, what a pretty house that is!’”
It’s so true that in our natural instinct to compartmentalize our world, we seem to naturally oversimplify people as well, stripping them down to a few words in order to represent them to another person. But we lose so much in the process. Perhaps, you might argue, that it is impossible to do a person justice in just a few words, unless you attempt to spew forth a biography. But maybe, as the prince complains, we could do a little better with the few words we do choose to use.
When my dad died and the well-wishers chatted amongst themselves after the funeral, many things were said about him. They said he was so smart, generous, funny, and most people said he was “a good man.” To me, that’s the highest praise one could get. I could think of so many people who are kind, or considerate, or compassionate, but only a few I could think of that I would call “good,” and wouldn’t even consider myself one of them. Maybe it’s because the word feels so definite, unquestionable, so all encompassing that it would seem hollow to dole it out easily. And yet, despite his flaws, I would still consider my father a good man.
I don’t know what words my friends would use to describe me to others, I could only hope they’re more positive than not. But the prince has turned my attention onto the few words I want to be described as, and they have nothing to do with my job description, college degree or athletic prowess. In fact, for now, I think I’ll strive for “good.”