The past few months I have been working on a theory of personality to help me understand some of my behaviors. It follows roughly from a few earlier thoughts – when I wrote about a house divided – where I hoped to find a method of self-improvement that did not require a constant, inward struggle.
I think the pressures of modern living have placed demands on us to act a certain way before we understand the reasons for those actions. This is especially so how because people’s lives interrelate so much that there isn’t great deal tolerance for odd behavior.
Faced with one set of impulses and desires, and another set of prescriptions for living filled with expectations, we learn to fragment ourselves very early in life, presenting our best side to the public and hiding our darker side until even we can’t see it.
This darker side is dark, not in the sense of evil, but because it is hidden from view. Sometimes its contents are indeed horrible, but probably not always as horrible as they seem. As a result, this side is left unexamined, making it very hard to form accurate judgments about is character.
One thing for certain though: the dark side is filled with energy and potency. It exists because our actions are at variance with our deepest urges. Conversely, the “light” side of our nature can lack genuine spirit if it is only a prescription with no connection to our urges. All of the dark side is to some extent desired, but only a portion of the light side overlaps with our basic interests. These areas of overlap between our desires and the accepted forms of behavior provide us with an outlet for creative energies – otherwise the individual finds himself frequently indulging the dark side to find sufficient release.
The light side – often socially and morally determined – is famous for priding itself on being “selfless”, and thus not only failing to consider the individual’s desires but actively ignoring them. It may even reach the extreme of choosing the exact opposite of what the heart wants, believing there to be more merit in rejecting what the self desires.
Since there are two origins of behavior: impulse and determination, I think health lies in harmonizing the two – blending short-term desires with long-term goals; enough release to know daily joy, but enough control for overall happiness and direction; and neither to excess.
Further, the dark parts that must stay dark – the desire to harm, for example – are not condemned, but found an accepted channel, perhaps only in fantasy. I don’t believe guilt is an effective way to “keep on track”, except to the extent that it makes us aware of our decisions and their consequences. There is no reason to loathe any of our impulses, simply to decide how to express them. Also with our moral choices, not to make them in defiance of the self, but in reference to what will complete us and integrate us best with the world around us.
Based on this division, I find in myself the greatest power and energy come from my dark, less evident side; but my best wisdom comes from my light, determined side. This is why my passions sometimes override what I know is best for me, because the two sides experience momentary conflict between short-term and long-term interests. Whichever side “wins” is sometimes a coin toss, because I don’t want either side to have absolute dominion. Who knows, sometimes making a mistake is the best way to learn. What seems to matter most is fairness and making the best decisions when times matter most – not striving for an illusory perfection that I always feel guilty for not achieving.
As the two sides reach a greater respect for one another, I start to see them as two aspects of a unity rather than as opposing sides. At times they fight, but more often they find ways to cooperate: for the dark side to offer its energies in service of the light, and the light to choose options that consider the dark. It is not necessarily a position of compromise, but of mutual interest. A compromise would satisfy neither one for long – such as a morally ambiguous but pale indulgence – but rather to find among the fields of possibility options to satisfy more parts of me at once. This happens when I serve society in a way that excites me, for example. The crusader-type moralist would look down on this as a concession to self-hood, and the rebel-type might see it as dancing to the tune of the Man, but I see it as a fulfillment of self within a greater field than self alone: something that benefits all parties, and not just “self” or “not self”.
In my earlier essay I had wondered how to achieve inward unity while aligning myself with an outer purpose. I think the answer lies in marrying the two – engaging self in the service of society. This creates a perpetuating cycle, so that the energy source for activity is constantly available and replenished and one’s motivation is at its highest: both external and internal. It’s a framework that must also remain flexible: sometimes a selfish indulgence, sometimes a selfless correction, but which on the whole leads consistently to a better end. Anything else seems to me so far to be either too inhuman (a quest for perfection) or too dehumanizing (giving up on perfecting anything).