I love to travel, and I hate airports. I hate airports because they're loud, they're noisy, there's lots of chaos, and worst of all? Crowds. I've had a terrible inability to prosper in crowds ever since I can remember; even a beloved Costco will drain my energy like I'm an iPhone in the freezing cold. I hate airports because they're a damned necessity on the way to a grand adventure.
I guess I should say that I used to hate airports. I used to hate airpots, and I love to travel. Which is a weird thing to say, really, because that's like saying you love heaven but you hate the Pearly Gates of St. Peter. I do believe that this may be the only time the hellish mess of LAX has been compared to the gates of heaven, but we shall roll with it.
I used to hate airports.
It's hypocritical. Why do I like travel? I like to travel because it's seeing new things, having new experiences. But by hating airports, I was saying that god forbid these new sights and new experiences happen *on the way* to the destination. They must happen *at* the destination. This is how travel has worked for me for quite a few trips involving flying.
But I'm being prescriptivist when I think like this. I've publicly subscribed to the cliched notion (a truism maybe?) that life is about the journey, not the destination. But up until now I've firmly held that airports (the centers of travel) are not a part of that journey. But the last time I was in an airport, I just started watching and listening. And I realized something -- airports are amazing. They're a collection of a hundred thousand individual stories, all intersecting and coexisting for a brief moment in one space. There's something beautiful and poetic in that. Granted, the crowds are still overwhelming and I wouldn't characterize airports as ideal, but I can exist in my life without disdaining them in a way I wasn't able to do before now.
So why am I even writing about this? Why is this anecdote relevant to literally anything else?
Because I think that we limit ourselves in ways that we often don't even realize. If we take a prescriptivist approach to life, we limit our experience to whatever we prescribe. Prescriptivism is an approach to language used by some in the fields of linguistics and psycholinguistics. I'm extremely oversimplifying, but basically, prescriptivists say that there's a certain way language should be used and they think that everyone should use language in that way. If you don't use it in the way they prescribe, prescriptivists think you're using it incorrectly. I think prescriptivism isn't just limited to the field of linguistics, though: we can wield a prescriptivist lens towards numerous different aspects of the world. As an example, by telling myself that the beauty of travel only exists at the destination, I'm not allowing myself to embrace the story that's unfolding in the Uber, in the airport, or even on the plane. We're also prescriptivist in many other aspects of our lives: how we think people should use language (like the original linguistic prescriptivists), who our friends will be, and what kind of job and life trajectory we have.
When we take a prescriptivist approach to all these facets of our experience, we lose something beautiful about the human experience. By telling someone how they should speak or use language, we're impressing our own limitations and limiting the innovation and expression of our fellow people. By only associating with a certain group of people or type of friend, we impose unnecessary boundaries around whose stories can intersect with ours. Which, of course, severely limits the type of experiences we can have. And perhaps worst of all, when we use a prescriptivist lens to view our careers and life plan, we limit our entire existence to a few set paths and close the doors to the myriad opportunities that could present themselves.
We love to think we're open minded, and I'm sure we all are in some aspect. But prescriptivism is a scary, limiting phenomenon. It took an epiphany about airports for me to catch my own prescriptivism in action. I think you see the relevance of my anecdote now. My hope for our generation is that we construct our society in a way that minimizes prescriptivism. Let's remain open to new experiences, new people, new forms of expression and ways to use language.
Let's embrace the fact that life is made up of thousands of different stories and experiences, all merging together to form a single coexisting narrative. Just like an airport.