Sunday, 1 September 2013

A HTHD Manifesto

A few weeks ago, one of my Facebook friends posted a link to one of those articles that was allegedly for our betterment as human beings. It presented what it characterized as "hard truths" about life that were somehow supposed to improve our lives by stripping out dumb illusions. Really, it was just a screed of utter cynicism, and I have little patience for that sort of thing. "Why aren't you as cynical as I am?" is not a persuasive argument as far as I'm concerned, though there is plenty in this dirty old world to be cynical about.

Here's a song you can listen to while you sit in the dark and drink hard liquor and frown about how lousy it all is. Be my guest.

Cynicism isn't good enough for me.

Cynicism is lazy. It's the philosophy of "everything sucks, so fuck the world". Cynicism has nothing to contribute except a pouty face and the conviction that the knowledge the world sucks makes you dreadfully cool and smart. Cynicism doesn't try to change things or contribute something that doesn't suck.

Sometimes I'm cynical, but I try to do better. Today, I'm going to try to give you a shot of not-cynicism as an innoculation against cynical people who would rather you just sit in the corner with them than build something meaningful with your life. Call it an Anti-Cynicism Manifesto, if you like. I will frame it in terms of positive stuff you can do at the table to improve your HTHD play, but really it's intended as a means to live your life in a way that's more positive generally. Your mileage may vary. Here goes:
  • Be Honest, Trust Others
Creating an open, honest dialogue is a great way to create the conditions for HTHD play, and also a great way to live your life. I'm not advocating that you hand your wallet to everyone you meet, but it's an easy way to improve your relationships. Tell people what your thoughts are, rather than bottling them up. Let people into your life and they will begin to do the same. This is what friendship is all about, and it's easy to forget; we start to think that a relationship is about trappings like the things we do when we hang out, and not about the connection that makes those things possible. Deep connections are rewarding, and they start with openness and honesty.
  • Listen
Be mindful of the people around you, and the things they say. Even if you've got a good relationship with someone in your life (or at your table), sometimes communication is strained. Someone is trying to work something through, and it's hard to talk about. Or they need some help, and don't know how to ask. Or they flat-out just need another human being to really pay attention to them for a few moments and let them know that their little struggles matter. Mindfulness doesn't seem like a hard thing, but it requires work and patience.
  • Be Generous
Share the things that are important to you. Natalie Goldberg writes that it is a great kindness to take someone by the hand and show them something you love, something beautiful. At the table, a lot of the joy some players get out of gaming is what has been called "lonely fun" -- writing a detailed character backstory, world-building, that sort of thing. It's so important to get these things on the table, into the game, so that everyone can appreciate the things that make the game cool to you. The more you share, the more you get back; artists know this, because art can't exist without someone to appreciate it. And it's a great thing to do away from the table too. My wonderful, kind wife writes reviews of books she loves on GoodReads, and she makes a habit of giving away books she loves to friends. She wants people to share the awesome.
  • Be Bold
Regrets can poison your life. If I could give one message to my younger self, it would be that trying something and failing is not as painful as wondering what would have happened if... Life doesn't come with a safety line. You have to stick your neck out sometimes, to get what you want in life. Choose your battles, but keep striving. Ambition and self-improvement are one of the things that gives life a special flavour, and when you make a positive change in your life (or in your gameplay) it feels great. You don't have to have six-pack abs or an Olympic pole-vaulting record to enjoy exercising. Striving is its own reward.
  • It's Okay to Be Vulnerable
This is one of the hardest things I've ever had to learn, because practically everything in Western society tells you that this is not The Way It Is. People aren't supposed to tell each other what they feel -- a lot of common wisdom would tell you that it's a terrible mistake to let down your emotional armour even for a second. But this is exactly wrong. The way to have a deep connection with a friend or a spouse or a fellow gamer is to share those moments of vulnerability. There is nothing so powerful as the feeling that you have given yourself entirely over to another person, and they have not turned you away. The creation of a "safe place" in your life with your close friends, family, and fellow gamers means that you will feel more yourself, because you aren't hiding a large chunk of yourself away from the world. It's scary to be vulnerable, but it's okay to be afraid sometimes. Every intimate connection I have is all about the times I let my guard down and opened up my life to someone else.
  • Be Kind to Each Other
This is the bottom line for me. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, ' On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies - "God damn it, you've got to be kind." ' Making art or building relationships is all about being kindness and compassion; so it is at the gaming table. Support each other and create safe places. Be honest and help each other be both vulnerable and bold. The world is improved by even a small kindness, cynics be damned. How many times has a single kind word or small good deed -- from a friend or even a complete stranger -- made your day better? When someone at your table has really gone for it, and stuck their neck out in a scene, let them know how much you appreciated it. Let them know it mattered to you.

Be kind. Make a better world.

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