Hell is other people.
‘Hell is other people’ is a line that comes from a 1944 existentialist play by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Huis Clos, or No Exit. In the play, three people are trapped in Hell, which is a single room.
‘Hell is other people’ doesn’t mean other people are the worst and you should hide yourself in a dark, lonely room so that you don't have to put up with them. ‘Hell is other people’ because of how we are unable to escape the watchful gaze of everyone around us, and we become trapped by the opinions and judgments of our cellmates.
17 months of lockdowns have put the spotlight on our relationships with other people. There are the people we work with, and we do see a lot of them on our screens. While work does get done, tasks are accomplished, and some socialising happens, the human connection is virtual and tenuous. But hey, it’s better than nothing, I guess.
There are the people we live with
We see a lot of them every day, all the time, constantly. While it is wonderful to spend time together with your close family and dearest housemates, the human connection becomes strained and tested when you live in each other’s pockets for months on end – especially when it’s a household full of kids, high school teenagers and working from home parents.
There are the people we pass on the street and see in the local park
We don’t really know them, but it’s great to just say G’day to someone and have a human, face-to-face conversation with someone you don’t live with every farking day. This is often a great mood lift, and it makes me appreciate ‘strangers’ more than I ever did.
And there are the people we never get to see at all
Extended family, close friends, lovers, and extended friends network. While we don’t need to see these people every day, these are the people we hang out with at pubs, restaurants, parties, weddings, anything. And since absence does make the heart grow fonder, we yearn for them, and we miss them terribly.
Right now I’m guessing the people you’re complaining about most are the people you are trapped with at home – every breakfast morning, every Friday evening, every Netflix show, every minute of every farking day. It used to be such a happy household, when everyone had their own lives to live, their own social arrangements to make, and their own friends to play with. Now everyone is irritated and has a short fuse.
I miss my friends terribly, while I sit trapped at home with my daughter. She spends every Friday night with me, watching the footy and a movie. She’s a very social, out-and-about young lady, and so I pull her leg by saying, “Another Friday night at home – what a loser”. She complains, “These are supposed to be the best years of my life”. To which I reply, “They are supposed to be the best years of my life too”. Why do young people always think they matter so much more? (hahahahaha)
And while we do sometimes get sick of the sight of each other, I tell her to enjoy the experience. I tell her that one day she will look back at the months and the Friday evenings that we were in lockdown together, and laugh, and be grateful for that time when we were in lockdown.
Our relationship has developed into a deep understanding and appreciation of each other – precisely because of the daily irritations and challenges – and we would never have had the sort of relationship we have today were it not for lockdown. In fact, it can arguably be said that no father and daughter have spent as many Friday nights together at home watching footy and Netflix ever. Amen to that!
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