It seems to me that there are two types of people portrayed in books and movies. The first are one-dimensional people, who’s emotions are coloured within defined lines, who’s likes and dislikes are nice and palatable and who are simple to understand, as if knowing them is like knowing a favourite sweater: always the same.
The second type of person is the absolutely crazy person: their emotions come in impossible peaks and valleys, their family lives are full of death and disturbance, their daily activities are erratic and their thoughts ramble on divergent paths a million miles a second. These are the crazies: to be pitied, avoided and, eventually, remedied.
Why is there no in between? Where is the complex person portrayed? Where is thenormal human being?
What I’ve increasingly come to notice is that each of us is a person with extremes, with black and white and grey and all brilliant colours inside of us. And that can be frightening. Sure, we expect that in social settings we will all act within some kind of accepted norms; no one likes the crazy to come out so blatantly on their morning commute. At work, we want our colleagues and managers to be of similar frame of mind on a daily basis – we want to know what to expect and how to interact accordingly. In our relationships, we want to generally know how the other person will act given a range of circumstances.
I feel, however, that these acts also seek to stamp out any acknowledgement of complexity in ourselves. We want to brush over past traumas, rush back to whatever ‘normalcy’ means. We want to have a timeframe for grieving, for being angry, for being sad. We feel out of sorts if we feel anything that isn’t a palatable and socially acceptable or politically correct emotion. We place ourselves into cookie-cutter moulds and cringe at the parts of ourselves that stray outside of the lines.
But we are such complex beings. We can love one person while grieving for another. We can harm the person we care deeply about. We can hate people we turn around and love. We can be ecstatic one minute and then deeply uncertain the next. We can be ardent feminists in public and traditional women in private. We can portray strength and bravado, while feeling deeply insecure about our looks, our bodies, our place in society.
We smoke and go to the gym.
We drink and drive and donate to charity.
We date people from other cultures, make racist jokes, make sexist comments.
We say we will never do something. And then we do just that.
I would argue that repressing this complexity, repressing these extremes and repressing their expression (to certain degrees) is a disservice to ourselves, to our close partners and to the way we live and perceive our lives. While we cannot go about every minute in deep consideration of our multitudes (how exhausting), we can come to know ourselves better, to understand both our strengths and our weaknesses, to see ourselves for who we truly are – the good, the bad, the very ugly and the simply beautiful.
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Plato explains that he has no time for mythology or other philosophies, because he has not yet been able to “know thyself” – the most important knowledge of all. How can we repress our pasts, our families, important moments in our lives as if they have not defined us, have not formed the way we see the world? And if we are not able to fully understand how our thoughts, our perceptions and our feelings are shaped, then how can we seek to change or even understand our conflicting selves?
Although we mostly judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their behaviour, if we were to fully accept our layers, to make way for our full humanity, perhaps we could do so for others as well – making space for the layers of people around us, and treating them with the love and kindness we so desperately seek.
So really, be kind. (Plato said that as well) Be kind because everyone is fighting a battle.
This piece was cross-posted here with permission from The Eternalist