“But I imagine you come across a number of people who are disconcerted by the difference between what you do feel and what they fancy you ought to feel. It is fatal to pay the smallest attention to them.”
“Yes,” said Harriet, “but I am one of them. I disconcert myself very much. I never know what I do feel.”
“I don’t think that matters, provided one doesn’t try to persuade one’s self into inappropriate feelings.”
--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
“Weird.” “Strange.” “Inconsistent.” “Wishy-washy.” “Cold.” “Heartless.” “Hypocritical.”
How many of us have heard ourselves called these things, either by others, or by the voices rattling around the chambers of our own skulls? Maybe we got lucky. Maybe no one ever said the words. But, I’m betting, most of us have heard the message loud and clear. There is a certain way of being, a type of person you are supposed to be. And you aren’t measuring up. Perhaps the message didn’t come in name calling. Perhaps it was more insidious. “That isn’t like you.” “I know you don’t really feel that way.” “That’s so out of character for you.”
Or, maybe the message wasn’t addressed directly to you, but you chose to accept it, to open the envelope, read it, and take it as yours anyway. Perhaps it came in the form of a criticism of people ‘like’ you – people who eat meat, or shun gluten, or are divorced, or who have multiple children, or have chosen no children; people who home school, who invest in private schools, who send their children to public schools; people who love more than once, people who love differently from the speaker, people between relationships; people who are creative, people who are outgoing, people who are shy…The list of ways of being that we learn are not okay is nearly endless.
No one knows who you are. Not always. No one knows who I am. Sometimes not even me. Why? Because, the person I am – the person you are – is an ever shifting tangle of feelings, traits, experiences, and inconsistencies. Forget layers. We are kaleidoscopes. We are shifting fragments of color, light, and shadow. Our patterns change with movement, with experience, and they change depending on who is holding us.
The person writing this blog right now is not the person who will be on the phone interviewing a source in an hour. Nor is she the person who went to bed last night.
So, is there a core person in there somewhere? Yes. Of course. I may be shaped by my experiences. Certain traits may leap to the fore depending on my company, the conversation, my level of physical well-being, and a host of other factors. But, somewhere underneath, below the shifting patterns, I’m still there.
Sadly, most of us get to be pretty good at hiding the core person. We’re social animals, and we mirror the cues of others for acceptance. Give me about 15 minutes, and your accent will begin to creep into my voice. Also, we live in a world that is remarkably intolerant of all things unique or inconsistent. Have you ever lived in a subdivision with that house on the block? You know, the one that was painted some color off of the earth-tone section of the wheel? Or where the owners tinkered with their car in the driveway, even though everyone else on the block parked in the garage? Do you remember that kid in school? The one who never listened to the music everyone else was singing? The one who talked about weird books and didn’t have a clue about the hottest TV shows?
Even societies that pride themselves on iconoclasm expect a certain level of conformity. Try living in certain “liberal” communities as someone who eats meat, refuses to attempt to bake gluten-free anything, and lets the kids watch Die Hard as a Christmas movie. No one will say it, not outright, but it is easy to get a sense that something about your way of being is not okay.
When it comes to feelings things get even more tricky. How many of us try to talk ourselves into the things we should feel? How often do we deny our own points of inconsistency – with society or with ourselves? Okay, I’m coming out of the inconsistent closet here. Feel free to add your own contradictions, quirks, foibles, etc. in the comments. Please.
- I have devoted my adult life to the preservation of animal welfare, but I eat meat and believe in the humane slaughter of horses.
- I have three children whom I adore, feel passionate about child development, and have absolutely no interest in kids I don’t know.
- I don’t really find newborn babies adorable.
- I would be fine with kicking our TV to the curb, but I’m the first one to turn it on after the kids go to bed.
- I state a preference for being alone, yet I’m the one who usually suggests hosting a party.
- I’m inherently shy, but refuse to dress in a way that lets me fade into the background.
- I like to climb trees, dig in the dirt, and wear stilettos.
- I believe in a divine power, but chances are I won’t discuss it with you, nor am I comfortable hearing about your beliefs – most of the time.
- I hate Hallmark cards, but their commercials make me cry.
- I consider myself the equal of any man, almost any time, but I still like it when a guy makes me feel delicate.
- I’m big on balanced nutrition and seasonal produce, but I won’t take vitamin supplements and I think most “natural” remedies are for suckers. However, I only buy ginger to offset nausea or motion sickness.
The list could go on for pages, and I’m sure anyone who knows me well can think of two or three or fifteen points to add to the list. However, the point isn’t the individual paradoxes. The point is learning to accept what we really do feel. And perhaps, learning to be a bit more accepting of those things in others which strike us as “off.”