Let’s talk about Josh. Josh is great. Let me tell you why.
Cast your brilliant minds back three months to early December, tutorials have given way to revision week. Darkness falls early at 3pm, earlier if the day’s a dreary one and much like the encroaching dusk, a general sense of panic is looming over the town like those greasy rain clouds that so often precede a storm. And I, like the many other students who live deadline to deadline, am stressing. I’ve lost one of my lecture notes, I can’t find a recording, and, what’s more, I am sure that particular lecture was vital for the exam.
Josh tumbled into this less than invigorating setting in the same way that a baby arrives to parents who’ve used contraception. That is to say, initially, I wasn’t best pleased to first meet him. Much like the baby-delivering stork of fairy tales, which I imagine arrives quite suddenly and without much fanfare save for the bass sound of beating wings, Josh hardly announced himself.
“Hi.” Two letters, barely a syllable was all I got before Josh launched into the notes. He was like an anaemic, corduroy-clad Genghis Khan, launching his words forth like those countless Mongol tribesman who clobbered Eastern and Central Asia’s unsuspecting empires. There was no relenting, no breaks for air and certainly no pleasantries. Josh was here for one purpose and one purpose only.
This was quite a shock for me. Call me cosseted, but I’ve come to expect some form of small talk. Questions like “how are you?”, “have you had a good week?”, maybe even a classic “what’s your pint of choice?” feature heavily in my conversations with strangers. When strangers reciprocate, we have a lovely, enjoyable, if somewhat superficial conversation that, if we’re meeting to do some work, utterly distracts us.
Josh wanted none of this. He didn’t want to make pleasantries or to reassure me that it would be ok, that the lecture wasn’t that important, or any of that guileful nonsense. He was purely information-sharing. Which shocked me. And, without consciously desiring to do so, I was judging him. Ignoring his good qualities, of which his generosity and kindness in helping me were forefront, and rejecting him as a Sheldon Cooper style superiority-fuelled know-it-all. In short, I thought Josh a socially inadequate git who thought his time too precious to observe basic manners.
So for the first few minutes, I sat there brooding, eyes blazing disapproval as Josh very graciously gave me all the information I could ever want. Clearly, I hadn’t encountered Josh or anyone similar in some time, if indeed ever. The experience, combined with a razor sharp sense of inferiority arising from my lack of lecture notes, was initially a negative one. It took considerable effort to grow up, and remind myself of a) this man’s considerable kindness and b) the fact that I could well fail the module if I continued to wallow in this weird inferiority-superiority judgemental limbo. It was an act that took far more effort than it really should have.
Standing back, compare Josh with Lydia. Last weekend at the pub, Lydia eagerly divulged the best ‘roids to buy. But don’t compare in order to pass moral judgement — I realised very early on in life that I’m far too flawed myself for that nonsense (best leave that to God, Osiris and Sandra from down the street) — rather, compare in order to find similarity.
They are both vastly different, from each other, from me, from the much maligned Leticia who communicates exclusively in paragraphs ending ‘rah’, from ‘roadman’ Mick who really should clean his North Face puffer, and all the other weird and wonderful people who populate this town. University is certainly a bubble, and St Andrews, with its 10,000 students surrounded by an equally small local population, is no doubt more so than most. But, a figure in the tens of thousands is still quite a figure, and I wonder if one does forget just how different some people can be — even if they do frequent the same pubs as you — and moreover, how easy it is to settle into needlessly judgemental habits, and to cling onto them when you’re feeling stupider than an escaped cow who’s wandered up to the abattoir.
Illustration: Danaja Kurnik