OK, let’s pretend you’ve got a big old box of paperclips. And let’s say there are approximately 300 paperclips in your big old paperclip box. You pour them out onto an empty table. Why? Doesn’t matter. Stick with me.
Once you dump them out, all the paperclips stay in a nice big paperclip pile. Except one. One lone, little clip took a haphazard tumble, and so it slid about two feet away from the rest. And there it sits, all by itself.
So. What do you do?
I believe most people would brush the lone paperclip back into the pile. But why? It’s not hurting anything or anyone to leave it out there on its own. And for the sake of this (riveting) story, let’s say this table has no other use for the foreseeable future. So why move the paperclip? There are probably two basic reasons.
Basic Reason Number One states that modern American humans have a tendency to keep things orderly whenever possible. As long as there are no overwhelming physical or temporal constraints, and as long as we’re not overcome by debilitating lazyassness, we’d very much like it if all the paperclips were confined to one general zone, thank you very much. So let’s brush that clip back into the pile and breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Basic Reason Number Two states that the paperclip … is lonely. That poor little clip is just sitting there, all sad and dejected while approximately 299 of its best paperclip buddies are whooping it up over yonder in the Paperclip Party Pile. It’s missing out on all the fun conversations and paperclip games, and even worse, it’s probably blaming you for its sudden plunge into social disparity. Why would you do this? How can you be that guy? How easy it would be to simply scoop the paperclip up into your strong, heroic, thoughtful hands and deposit it back where it belongs amongst its beloved paper-clipping friends and family. Do it now before it’s too late!
It’s Reason Number Two that’s been on my mind. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always assigned personalities and emotions to the objects around me. And what’s more, I’ve always wanted to make sure that those objects are ... happy.
Now, there are plenty people in this world who worry about this kind of thing way more than I do, and some people take it to extremely extreme degrees. Why is this?
I’m not talking about religious beliefs involving objects having souls, or literary metaphors, or the assigning of genders to inanimate objects. I’m just talking about that little part of your brain that whispers, “Don’t worry, my wee paperclip friend. Big Mike will lead you to safety.”
Scientists and psychologists and other people wearing their freshly pressed smarty pants call it “anthropomorphism” or “personification” or “actin’ nutters.” But I’m not talking about religious beliefs involving objects having souls, or literary metaphors, or the assigning of genders to inanimate objects. I’m just talking about that little part of your brain that whispers, “Don’t worry, my wee paperclip friend. Big Mike will lead you to safety.” Because you feel kind of bad for the little piece of twisted metal.
To this day, if I need to throw away a piece of scratch paper, I’ll often tear it in half so it can have a friend in the garbage can. How screwed up is that? In my little world of emotional objects, a scrap of paper is capable of feeling sadness and longing for companionship, yet it’s impervious to the pain of being ripped completely in half. Which is apparently also its means of reproduction.
I’m not talking about cherished, sentimental objects, here. Just stuff. Why do we give it emotions? Maybe the more important question should be, “Is this healthy?”
Hell yes, it is. As long as you’re not paying more attention to the emotional wellbeing of your pens and pencils than you are your family and friends, who cares? The world could use a lot more empathy, and empathizing with a paperclip seems like fine practice for the living.
Empathizing is not like riding a bike – it’s easy to forget how it works. We get distracted, we get tired, we draw into ourselves. Remembering that emotions are happening all around us can keep you grounded in something very important – each other.
And we need to stick together. Like sheets of paper. Bound by a paperclip. BOOM.