What a contrast there is between our own vast consciousness and the definite lines of personality which we present to others! Human beings are like extensive empires which touch only on their frontiers; like countries, they often present their most angular points to their neighbors, thus causing what we may call border difficulties and conflicts. We may think what a peculiar, cantankerous character is Joe, and wish he were different. But what you see is not Joe. It is only the aspect or side which Joe presents to you; and the view of him which you get depends as much upon yourself as upon Joe. What you see or know of Joe is but the smallest possible part of his totality. Behind the aspect turned towards you lies a vast continent of emotions, aspirations, and thoughts; and underneath that again deep layers of semi-conscious feelings, mostly unknown perhaps to Joe himself.
We are reminded of a famous passage in Shakespeare's Henry VI. The Countess of Auvergne has managed to seize the person of Talbot, the mighty British champion in the French wars, but he tells her she has secured but the shadow of himself:
You are deceived, my substance is not here;
For what you see is but the smallest part
And least proportion of humanity;
I tell you, madam, were the whole frame here,
It is of such a spacious lofty pitch,
Your roof were not sufficient to contain 't.
Realizing this, we should be less impatient when our efforts to impress and modify our fellow beings fail. We are endeavoring to influence not some slight organism, but a being of unknown dimensions and hidden powers. Even ourselves we do not know thoroughly, nor can we make ourselves exactly as we would like to be. How then can we expect to make others as we would wish them to be?
In man, as in the universe, there is something infinite. That is his share of the divine nature. Full harmony among human beings can only be attained in the depths or in the uplands of consciousness; disagreements arise through superficial contacts. Not, of course, that these contacts are always disagreeable; they may be quite pleasant and may lead to deeper and truer relationships. Our various relations with different people supply another proof of our infinite variety. Different points or areas of our personality find themselves in harmony with different people. Each new friendship develops a side of our being which otherwise might have remained dormant. With one friend we may discuss politics or religion, with another literature or science, while with a third we may be so intimate that our most secret thoughts and emotions are mutually confided. Every friend is a means of cultivating a patch of our mind or a corner of our heart. Our interest in a subject often decays if we can find no one with whom to share it. The life of activity is at our borders or surface; but another life is ours in the depths of consciousness, where, as in a City of God, we have a safe retreat if things go wrong on the frontiers. "The soul environs itself with friends that it may enter into a grander self-acquaintance or solitude; and it goes alone for a season, that it may exalt its conversation or society."
It is by contact or collision with other minds that our own nature becomes clearer to us. The philosophers tell us that thought joins itself to matter in order to divide itself, and so make itself distinct and clear; just as the ocean only takes form as it approaches the land, and owes its shape to the indentations, nooks, and crannies of the shores which it washes. So with our personality: it finds itself and discovers its own nature by intercourse with others.
Personality and fellowship are the two poles of our being; it is as necessary to develop the one as to cultivate the other. The one reacts upon the other, not in the way of mutual destruction, but of mutual strengthening. That is to say, a person of strong individuality of character has usually also strong social instincts. The need for fellowship is not felt least acutely by him who possesses the most powerful personality, and who feels the greatest necessity for freedom in his individual development. Walt Whitman, for instance, presents a notable example of a temperament in which a strong love of independence and a determination to develop along his own peculiar lines was combined with a profound capacity for friendship and a passionate love of his chosen comrades. His cravings for fellowship were so intense that he pitied even "a live oak growing in Louisiana," and "wondered how it could utter joyous leaves, standing there without its friend near." And Thomas Carlyle recognizes the importance of both elements, personality and friendship, in the following passage: "A man, be the Heavens ever praised, is sufficient for himself; yet were ten men united in Love capable of being and of doing what ten thousand singly would fail in."
Back Issues Menu