We're all in the same boat – but we’re actually not.
This phrase has been thrown around a touch too freely in recent years and has been aggressively chucked at me over the past 12 months in particular. I would like to say that it is just my elders passing on tired clichés as a weak but well-intentioned source of comfort, consolation or dismissal towards a conversation they would rather not have, but it also comes from my peers. Therein lies the problem.
From my elders – parents, colleagues, and general life superiors – I can handle it. Sure, it’s patronizing and condescending and comes with the added bonus of their lack of participation in the “boat” to which they refer.
It’s more of a “you’re all in the same boat,” like they presume to know what every single solitary individual within my general age bracket are up to. Further to that, there’s the presumption that what we’re doing is all relatively similar or, if not, that it’s perfectly acceptable to lump all of our situations together and ascribe them the same treatment. But I can get past this.
The funny thing is that none of us are turning around to our parents’ generation and yelling “WELL YOU’RE ALL IN THE SAME BOAT TOO” because: A) That’s an insanely disrespectful and a rather difficult thing to pull off in public without attracting a great deal of unwelcome attention, and B) Because they’re not – and we know they’re not, and we respect that and we listen to what we’re taught by each of their unique, individual life experiences.
My question is this: Is there nothing to learn from the individual experiences of our younger generation? Of course that’s not the case, so why is everyone so quick to bundle us so tightly together?
For my parents’ generation certainly there was much less choice in terms of life paths, progressions and milestones that it all seemed rather formulaic. Those who could afford university went, those who couldn’t got jobs and generally speaking most people were married, mortgaged and mollycoddling the beginnings of their new families by the time they hit their early thirties.
The “same boat” theory was so entirely assumed and widely accepted that it probably wasn’t even a commonly used phrase. Perhaps it was a source of comfort like they intend it to be now, rather than the irritant that I find it to be.
It should be noted that I have struggled relentlessly to sway others to my way of thinking, so let’s see this as an essayist’s attempt to persuade readers of the negative connotations of the socially constructed boat in which we are all allegedly sailing.
For me, it is dangerous. One of the many hyper-analytical symptoms of our “millennial” (gag) generation is mental health awareness, and we are deeply entrenched in the contemporary trend of mindfulness.
While I’m not claiming that everyone who has a bad day or an iffy moment about a new job or a spat with a difficult housemate is in some way mentally compromised, what I am saying is that there is a new emphasis on the necessary respect for the happenings inside a fellow human’s head. When I think about generalizing, trivializing or even normalizing things which appear to be mundane, innocuous or ordinary life events, it makes me extremely nervous.
I shall provide a basic example of my unrehearsed and “in development” theory. Let’s imagine a girl and call her Mary because girls in example stories are always called Mary. Mary is 25 and has a job that she likes but doesn’t love. It pays the bills with a little extra on the side but doesn’t stimulate her, and she clocks out at five each day feeling eager to get on with the rest of her life but lacking in energy and a little bored.
She socializes at weekends with friends and has a boyfriend too. Her four closest friends and boyfriend are all extremely successful and make significantly more money than Mary. To her, they are succeeding in life much better than she is so she envies them but also criticizes herself greatly for falling so far behind.
One evening, she turns to her boyfriend and voices these concerns. She feels sad, disappointed and worried that she’s stuck in a rut. She wonders if she made the wrong call choosing her current job and that she is too scared to quit.
Her boyfriend turns to her and says, “Babe, we’re all in the same boat.”
Mary now feels stupid for having thought of herself or her situation as special. She feels stupid for having felt the need to talk about her concerns and fears about her own life. She is made to feel selfish for assuming that her situation is somehow more interesting or important than someone else’s.
She wonders what the hell is wrong with her boyfriend that he cannot see how incredibly different their situations are, and wonders if maybe he is also bored of her job and bored of her. You see, a pattern of further doubt and fear develops.
The point is, Mary’s boyfriend could also genuinely be just as terrified as Mary – about work or any other number of things. The habit that we are all in of somehow being expected to take immediate and unquestionable solace in other people’s fears and worries is very strange to me. The fact that everyone is terrified does not make me less terrified.
The motion I put forward is that we are all in the same ocean. What we share is a generational issue. We have too many options, too much exposure and a strong tendency to compare, contrast and yearn for that greener grass that beckons from the better half of life that everyone else always appears to be living.
So we all have our own boats. They may be similar in size and shape, and they are all sailing in the same direction. We are in fleets together, sharing the swells and dips of waves, storms and giant whales that swallow us whole. We will all continue to plug the holes that appear causing links, constantly under threat of sinking, capsizing or worse.
Maybe that’s just life and we’re all just a bunch of crazy pirates hoping for some solid adventures, treasures and a bit of decent sun while we’re at it. But I can’t get behind this idea that we’re all in the same boat. I much prefer my notion of us sailing alongside in the same scary ocean.