This morning at Starbucks, one of the baristas said I really needed coffee because I looked tired.
His coworker replied, “No, she’s always like that.”
I laughed (and made a mental note to perk up), but he spared my feelings by explaining his remark.
“She doesn’t always look tired. Just always relaxed, laid back. Is that how you really are?”
“Yes.” My simple answer to a complex question.
Am I laid back and relaxed? Despite the sometimes loud dialogue in my head, yes, I am pretty chill. A mellow, soft spoken, kind woman who is not easily excitable and, as a coworker recently observed, “doesn’t talk to strangers.” That’s me, most of the time.
But that’s not all there is to me. Sometimes, when conditions are right, I may be mistaken for a social butterfly. Chatty, silly, and engaging in conversation with random folks I don’t know. Yet, still me.
Being completely aware of these two Sheryls (and the couple more that comprise my layered personality), I wondered whether I was being truthful with the baristas this morning. After much thought, I decided that I was. Each of these pieces of me is authentic. The better one knows me, the more likely he or she is to understand my personality and predict which Sheryl will make an appearance in which social setting.
The more I thought about this, I considered our tendency as human beings to label people. While it may make it easier to deal with them, I think it does a disservice to us as unique persons if we’re not free to be our complete selves in all of our complex glory.
On any other day, I may not have given much thought to the barista’s seemingly simple question. I blame my decision to dissect the matter on the television phenomenon that is Scandal. The latest episode stuck with me more than most, and not just because of its typically unpredictable plot twists.
In short, I was disturbed by Fitz’s reason for placing his off-and-on extramarital affair with Olivia back in off-again status. Since I understand that in some warped Internet world where people don’t partake in much fiction and fail to realize that people’s personal morals don’t always align with the characters they love, and therefore my being an Olivia fan is somehow misconstrued into a real-life endorsement of adultery, I must start by stating that the affair between Fitz and Olivia is unequivocally wrong. However, since the murder, lying, and stealing that takes place on the show is also wrong, as comedian D.L. Hughley once said, “go’n and keep the party going.”
Okay, now that we have that out of the way, back to my point. Fitz was informed of something illegal and immoral that Olivia did. He then decided that she was not the woman he thought she was, and this (not the vows of matrimony uttered before God) was a good reason to make it work with his wife. Interestingly enough, his wife was involved in the same illegal act that Olivia was – and he was fully aware of that. However, an action that was expected from his manipulative wife was somehow unforgiveable when committed by Olivia, whom he’d formerly held above reproach.
Fitz had previously made up in his mind that Olivia was ‘good’ and that his wife was ‘evil.’ The truth is they both have good and bad qualities, Olivia leaning more toward good and his wife leaning more toward bad. However, Olivia’s stepping outside the box he’d framed for her, even once, was seen as the ultimate betrayal, knocking her from the pedestal she never should have been placed upon in the first place. He defined her character as a person based on one act.
Many of us desperately need people to be the version of themselves we’ve created in our heads. Never mind that our imaginations are often biased and over-simplified. We still want them to be who we’ve predetermined them to be. Then when their real selves fall short of our expectations in some way, we wipe our hands of them.
Perhaps I chose too complicated a couple to illustrate my point. The fact that Fitz and Olivia should not be together will keep some people from considering how dangerous it is to expect people to be one-dimensional creatures. I personally think Fitz’s reaction to Olivia’s mistake would have been the same even if they were both single.
Who we “really are” can rarely be summed up in a few words. Our personalities are complicated; they evolve and unfold throughout the long form works of art that are our lives. You can be authentic and ‘real,’ yet have some aspects of yourself that aren’t immediately obvious to random passersby. You can have some good and bad parts of you that take long periods of time for even those closest to you to completely understand. And that’s okay. I believe it is, in fact, people’s expectation that we be “one way” that causes some people to present completely false identities.
My favorite line from last night’s episode came from someone trying to coax the truth out of their spouse: “if you love me, show me who you are.”
The point? I know there’s more to you than meets the eye. Trust me enough to show me the good, the bad, and the ugly. I need to know all of you.
How many of us can handle knowing who people really are? Not your coworkers and associates with whom you have casual relationships, but your family, spouses, and closest friends with whom you desire true intimacy? Do you acknowledge that there may be additional dimensions of their beings, some good and some bad, maybe some things in their past that they’re not proud of? Does one negative act, or even something that you merely perceive to be out of the ordinary, completely negate who you’ve always known them to be?
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.