Years ago, a friend and I were in conversation. We were lamenting the fact that people can’t, often, see themselves the way others see them; they can’t see the good things about themselves which stand out like beacons to other people. All the person themselves can see are the bad things, the negative things, the flaws.
My friend – being a mathematical sort – asked me to describe myself in terms of a shape. ‘Your mind,’ he said, ‘and how you see your personality – not a shape that describes how you look.’ So, I said a parallelogram, not really sure why – possibly just because it’s a cool word.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘To me, you’re a circle.’
‘O-kay,’ I replied, not really getting it. ‘Why?’
‘Because a circle is a perfect shape,’ he told me.
Now, by saying this, my friend wasn’t trying to tell me he thought I was perfect, but that how he saw me was widely at odds with how I saw myself. All I could see were angles and spikes and corners, but what my friend could see was balance, symmetry and wholeness.
I’m not sure whether he was right or wrong – or if those sorts of distinctions can even be drawn when you’re talking about a person’s opinion – but certainly, his view of me and my own view of me didn’t overlap then, and I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t overlap now. It can be a strange experience to hear another person’s opinion of you, particularly if they’re speaking to someone else about you in your hearing; it can feel a bit disorienting, like your concept of yourself suddenly doesn’t fit any more. ‘Who is this person they’re talking about, this nice creature? Couldn’t be me, surely.’
Don’t get me wrong: it’s lovely to be thought of in good terms by others, and I’m lucky that it has happened to me once or twice so far in the course of my life. It’s just odd, and I wonder why.
I’d like to think I’m the same person, no matter who I’m talking to or where I am: I don’t make an effort to be more ‘circle-like’ in certain company, while happily parallelogramming it around at other times. I am what I am – at least, I hope so. And yes, there are days when I feel content with who I am and what I’ve done with my life and what I plan to do with the rest of my time and I feel reasonably ‘together’, but in general I don’t feel like I have a handle on life. I reckon I’m just swinging from one crisis to the next, making the best of things as I go – a bit like everyone else. So, if I’m a circle I’m only a part-timer; occasionally, my circle breaks and I become a collection of shards instead. Maybe some of me has got lost over the years as I try to put myself back together, time and time again.
Perhaps, too, how others see us is as much a reflection on them as it is on us – my friend’s view of me as a ‘circle’ might say more about the personality traits he sees as admirable and worthy of emulation and which he imagines I have, rather than a realistic reflection of who I am. Maybe I am good at portraying an unruffled face to the world while inside my brain it’s like a scene from Duck Soup; who knows.
When facing a challenge, I really wish I could see myself as the circle my friend saw all those years ago. I wish I could picture a smooth and balanced exterior and an unflappable surface, filled with calm wisdom from edge to edge like a plump water-skin in a desert. Instead I’m all angles and careening lines, zipping about without direction or sense. My thoughts are like weapons. My mind is over-cranked. I feel about as circular as a straight line.
And then I realise all I have to do is bend, slightly – no, a little more – and my straight line can start to resemble something circle-like. Bend slightly more, without breaking, and continue on without stopping, and somehow, eventually, the line will meet itself, and a circle will form.
so it may be that I’m more a ‘circle-in-training’ than an actual circle, but that’s better than nothing, right? I’m trying to remember that someone, a long time ago, saw something admirable in me, and chose to tell me so. He used the highest form of praise he could. Unknowingly – or perhaps not – he also gave me a tool I can use to help myself when things get tough; I can imagine myself as a circle, the circle he saw and which must therefore be in me, somewhere. Complete. Whole. Balanced. Graceful.
I don’t see it yet, and maybe I never will; I’m glad to know it’s there, all the same.