There is a word that I discovered once while watching the documentary “Life in a Day” (which I highly recommend to all you cultural sharks) that has haunted me ever since: mamihlapinatapai.
It comes from the deceased language of Tierra del Fuego, and the word means “a look that is shared by two people who both desire to initiate something, though neither are willing to make the first move”. It probably stemmed from the dissonance between two tribe chiefs who wanted to make war, or to make peace, but it can be applicable to many things. It can be the moment shared by two star crossed lovers across a room. It can be any number of intangible, ineffable moments that we experience every day that can only be summed up by that particular word. But mostly, what haunts me about this word is the idea of hesitance.
What is it that binds us to reality, that changes the free loving child into the cautious adult, that makes us into skeptics?
I’m a traveler, I’m a lover and liver of life, I’m usually one of those “live by the sun, love by the moon” hippies running around half naked on any given day. Through my work and opportunities I have had the blessing of meeting and becoming friends with many of my personal idols, nearly all of which have offered me incredible opportunities. Just this morning I received a call from a friend who offered to buy me a ticket, drive me all the way to Georgia, and give me my own tent and bed so that I could make it to a regional Burning Man event called Euphoria. I turned him down. So why do I sometimes find myself balking in the face of opportunity? I like to think that maybe it’s just my antisocial side peeking out, but realistically I think it’s something deeper.
There is an unspoken creed in this day and age that instructs us to listen to our parents, get an education, get a job, work 9-5, make a living, support ourselves, support our families, silently contribute to society. And not to say that this type of structure isn’t completely necessary or beneficial to our society, but there’s something stagnant about it. The “American Dream” used to be a house with a white picket fence, a significant other and two and a half kids, but haven’t we evolved enough as a society, as a world, to where we can want for more in life?
It has been engrained into our subconscious that we should be calculating and safe in our actions. I recently watched a TED Talk given by Ken Robinson about how our educational systems are neglecting to encourage creativity in the classroom, and so younger generations grow up to work in offices that lack creativity, being afraid of expressing their creativity, shunning those who choose to live a creative life. So maybe this sort of unintentional ban on imagination has seeped over into our adult lives and implanted in us a fear of deviating from the “normal” standard of living. Of making choices that are out of the ordinary, and have the potential to crash and burn. And so when we are faced with the difficult, the improbable, the unexpected choice, we laugh coyly and say, “Maybe next time.”
Robert Frost wrote about taking the road less traveled. He said,”Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” What he wasn’t trying to do was encourage you to be unique and do what others haven’t, but rather to make the choice. Frost was saying that what distinguishes those who have made a difficult choice is that they were capable of thinking for themselves and making it at all.
So maybe that’s the first step to overcoming hesitance; really considering the opportunities that are presented before us in life, and learning to make a decision. And once we establish that voice inside of us, we can become confident in ourselves and our abilities to make choices, and make the right choices, and we can start taking that road not taken because it may scare us, and it may be out of the ordinary, but it might just lead us to something magical.
So if you do choose that road, that path that others before you have been afraid of, I encourage you to embrace and enjoy the ride. For you have felt that moment of mamihlapinatapai, and you have broken the hesitance by taking the first step.