The Way We Are

A personality theory is basically a literary explanation of why people do the things they do. At one point in high school, I got really into reading up on PhD’s personality theories. Some of the philosophers would have really complex, drawn out explanations going over the intricacies of human thought dating back to cavemen and monkeys. Others were very sociological and blunt, basically outlining a formula they had discovered by which everyone makes any choice. I thought they were interesting, but mostly I didn’t buy it.

However, there was one theory I read that ended my search. It was beautiful, simplistic, real, and written by an author, not a doctor. He explained life as a novel, where we are each living out individual books, ourselves being the main character of our own story. We’re born, there is some rising action, we hit some road bumps along the way, then usually hit the climax somewhere in our thirties, then falling action and conclusion, we die.

Amongst all of the things I took in, each theory included one thing, but only the author’s explanation could tie it all up and drive it home.

See, everyone can accept we have some mysterious desire to be known, or at least remembered. We want to scratch our way into history, have people talk about us, and have our great-great grandchildren talk about us to their friends. This desire only makes sense in a story format. If we are the main character, getting most of the screen time, obviously, we would want our story to be epic. We can’t have our book just be about some guy sitting at home.

The problem is, everyone else is also writing a book of their life. We are just a passing character in those stories. We are an extra, sitting on the plane a few rows back, waiting behind them in the Starbucks line, or cutting them off on the interstate.

Our stories are constantly overlapping, intertwining in a series of concentric circles, but you will never be the main character in any story but your own. So, what if we chose to make decisions that will make us happy, instead of making us remembered. How about we allow ourselves to enjoy our own story, and stop worrying so much about getting praise from other people.

In my grandfather’s book about Kansas basketball, he includes an appropriate dialogue between Forrest Allen, a legendary Kansas basketball player, and James Naismith, the inventor of the game. Allen inquired to Naismith why he believed the game took off so popularly. Naismith replied,

“The appeal of basketball is that it is an easy game to play, but difficult to master.”

            “You mean, just like life.”

            “Yes, just like life, Forrest.”

In life, just like in story, and just like what James Naismith understood about basketball, all that really matters when the credits roll is that you played, or rather lived to the best of your ability. It is easy to forget in a world full of Instagram, reality TV, and the general media, that you aren’t those people, that isn’t your story, and that isn’t your life. Nor should it be.

How’s this for a personality theory; We do the things we do because we are the way we are, and the way we are is distinctly different in every sense of the word. It doesn’t take a genius doctor to figure that out.


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