Reading Between the Lines
I’m wrong and have been wrong about it all along.
I always thought that people’s actions always spoke for what they wanted. For the most part I think this is still true. People do what they want.
But it wasn’t until I, at the behest of dear Atticus Finch, looked at my own behavior from someone else’s shoes did I realize this doesn’t always apply. This fails to take into account the hierarchal and often tension-laden relationship between wants versus needs.
If you were to read my desire simply by the choices I’ve made, you would be vastly misinformed by your findings. Perhaps not in all areas but in a specific few. Sometimes what we want is diametrically opposed to what we need.
What I want is not what I need. I can live without it (hence making it only a want) but life without it is not my true desire, no matter what my actions say. What I think need right now is not what I want. Not at all, in fact.
But you wouldn’t know this.
At least not without asking me.
If you were to read my intentions simply by my actions, you wouldn’t know the whole story or even the half of it. You wouldn’t truly know why I do what I choose to do. My actions may appear definitive, calculated, and you wouldn’t be foolish to assume that this renders me some level of satisfaction. But test the structure with the lightest touch and you will find it is a house of cards on a windy day. This might be what I’ve chosen but it is not what I prefer.
Sometimes what we want and what we need do not know how to sing together harmoniously. There remains this awkward, restless, tundra: the crux of will and desire, where we will find ourselves all at once both winning and losing. Until what I want is also what I need, I will always lose. Yes, the optimist will point out that at the same time I will always win, inching ever slowly toward the end goal. But for some reason the bitter stain of losing, in any measure, always feels so much more pronounced, that it hardly feels like winning at all.
The struggle is that I want to want what I need. And these things are never static but dynamic, circuitously informed by the ebb and flow of story and time.
When approaching a character analysis in acting, there are a series of common questions one starts with, and nearly all of them have to do with desire. What does this character want? What is their objective? More important than the character’s objective in the scene is their super-objective- what they want overall. You won’t understand a character’s behavior until you understand their super-objective, what makes them tick. You won’t know how a character feels until you understand who and what they value and to what degree.
And in each scene in life, a character may chose any number of tactics to acquire what it is they most want, which may at any given time seem contradictory to what they want in an immediate circumstance.
To know a character, and to know each other, one must read between the lines. There are strong reasons why we do the things we do, the choices we choose to make, the words we choose to say or not to say. Actions do speak louder than words. But there’s a reason why words exist. Apart from one another, neither tells complete stories.
I want to tell complete stories. And story lives in the nuance between words and deeds, as does valuable communication. I want the edge puzzle pieces and the middle ones too.
I don’t want someone to think they know me solely because of what I choose to do or not do, when they don’t know why I do it. Nor do I want someone to think they know how I feel because they’ve drawn conclusions that may seem black-and-white on the surface but underneath are very gray.
All to say, in order to know someone, you have to look at the whole picture, suspend your assumptions, and be open to asking questions. I suppose that presupposes your desire to really know who someone is, and not settle for the illusion of who you have sketched them to be. Perception is not always reality, at least not in its entirety. We’d do well to revisit our assumptions and brave the question of what’s underneath.