Characters & Complexity

Recently, I had a bizarre moment. A person (we’ll call them Person #1) who has largely been kind to me–even going out of their way to be so–was portrayed by someone else (Person #2) as having a completely different, far less amenable side.

The tricky part of this was that I totally buy Person #2’s take. I trust their opinion, believing them when they say they’ve had this bad experience. But I also don’t think the kindness shown me by Person #1 is totally fabricated.

So it was throwing me for a bit of a loop, trying to square Person #1’s very-opposed-but-apparently-equally-genuine qualities. I kept thinking: “How can they be like this to me, then turn around and act like that to others?”

Here’s the truth, though: People are complicated, complex, mysterious creatures with shades of motivation, perception, and desire that can be difficult to impossible to untangle. Sure, some universals exist (at least among those not tormented by serious psychoses): We’re all selfish. We all want to love and be loved. We’re all afraid of something. We all see ourselves as the hero of our own story. But we can never entirely know what it’s like to inhabit another person’s shoes, because each pair of shoes is so marvelously unique. What to me looked like dissonance within Person #1’s character made perfect, logical sense to them.

I sometimes feel badly because I’m prone to the writerly habit of seeing the living, breathing people around me in character-terms. I pick up this person’s quirky gesture. I crib that guy’s unique cadence of speech. I tuck people into categories: courteous southern gentleman. Friendly, fun-loving party girl. Brash, bullying Type A father. Continue reading “Characters & Complexity”

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