TURNING INTO OUR OPPOSITES
ROBERT J. LEWIS
I smile when I’m
I cheat and I lie,
I do what I have to do,
To get by.
Character is not cut in marble .
It is something living and changing,
and may become diseased as our bodies do.
by psychiatrist Carl Jung in 1949, the chat-friendly term enantiodromia
describes the tendency of things, over time, to turn into
their opposite. Examples abound, some in our faces: Turkey’s
Recep Erdogan, erstwhile believer in democracy (Ataturk) morphs
into an autocrat/despot; good people turn bad and vice versa.
In everyday life we are always running into people who pretend
to feel what they don’t, who offer opinions they don’t
subscribe to, or who concoct outright lies, but eventually,
. . . yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,
we first endure
. . . then embrace,”
the pressure of circumstance and repetition, they come to feel
what they didn’t mean, and believe what were once lies.
We ask out loud how often can a moral person act immorally and
still be judged moral? Is the true measure of the man his speech
(best intentions) or deeds, done and undone?
an actor, either on stage or in front of the camera, is acting,
it is self-evident that he is not being his real self. He is acting
because he gets paid for it and probably enjoys what he’s
doing + perquisites. Since we know that the acting is staged for
our entertainment, we don’t think anything of it.
it is another matter when someone is caught or perceived to be
acting in real life, feigning an opinion or feeling he doesn’t
privately endorse, or pretending to be somebody that he isn’t.
Such persons are routinely accused of being phony, insincere,
inauthentic, meaning we reflexively, judgmentally refuse the reasons
that might justify the behaviour – and, as predicted by
the well trodden path of least resistance, the matter is settled.
temptation to act or be insincere in real life is perceived gain
and advantage. Pretending to share the same feelings and values
as the woman you court, the bank manager you solicit for a loan,
significantly increases the likelihood of winning the favours
of the woman and the bank’s money. The person who is unable
to act in those same situations will in all likelihood fare worse
than the better actor. Since we would all rather have than have
not, be happy than not, are there not very practical reasons ‘not
to be’ ourselves if it results in greater having and happiness?
life and death situation, the person who, principles aside, is
unable to act may pay the ultimate price. If X, a member of a
persecuted minority, is able to convince the majority that he
subscribes to their belief system, he survives. The bad actor
perishes. And this is precisely what nature intends and rewards.
Which means lying, dissimulating, being inauthentic, disingenuous,
fickle and phony are behaviours or poses that are more often than
not handsomely rewarded in the real world, and yet the above monikers
are pejorative, employed with the aim of shaming the accused.
are we to do when on the one hand we are encouraged to seek out
and cultivate our authentic selves, while on the other hand we
are rewarded when faking our feelings or pretending to be somebody
we are not – a dichotomy that leaves us caught between a
rock and a better place?
politicians are routinely accused of dissimulation is to completely
miss the point. Whether the power and privilege that come with
high office are put in the service of the electorate they have
been chosen to serve, or the elected official is driven by personal
ambition – power for its own sake, a bigger bank account,
membership in the yacht club -- lying or telling the truth is
one and the same since they are both means to an end, which is
consistent with nature’s purpose. If I’m being ‘justly’
accused of a crime that will result in lengthy incarceration and
destitution for my wife and children, but am able to persuade
the authorities of my innocence, I am neither lying nor telling
the truth but doing what is necessary to take care of my family.
with actors has less to do with their remarkable skills and more
with the powers they wield, their uncanny ability to adjust and
deliver what is required of them in whatever situation they find
themselves. “Being an actor is about changing who you are,”
says Will Smith, whose net worth is $250 million. Since the gifted
actor can play whatever role is asked of him, both on and off
the screen, who wouldn’t in their right mind refuse such
a gift? Wouldn’t we all rather be liked than not, be respected
than not, and if acting – that is not being ourselves –
is the means to that end, why should we allow ourselves to be
held hostage to the time-honoured “to thine own self be
true” tyranny? High-minded philosophy would have us believe
that meaningful existence and being a phony or having a series
of selves are incompatible.
character of Zelig, the ingratiating titular figure in the 1983
Woody Allen film, is able to mimic and win the favours of everyone
he meets, but decides to undergo therapy because he feels that
he has no center, no fixed self, and is inauthentic even though
not being himself allows him to exceed beyond all expectation.
to and of the world that is Leonard Zelig argues that there comes
a point in time when a phony, who is never himself but succeeds
in life by every measurable index, deserves to be judged as authentic.
Since he naturally or by choice has no fixed center or self, his
real self is the aggregate of the many selves he projects to accommodate
whatever situation he finds himself in. In the many faces and
disguises he wears like a second skin, he becomes the sum of all
men for all seasons, an exemplar of the genetic principle that
diversity is the best answer to adversity?
his initial misrepresentations, he was perceived and rightfully
judged as inauthentic, it must be taken into account that consequent
to choosing not to be himself he was able to significantly improve
his lot. As self-made (a strictly human prerogative) and willfully
everything to everyone (extrovert or introvert as required), and
in consideration of consistently positive outcomes, he has earned
his badge of authenticity even though he is the opposite of what
he once was. The implications are devastating for those on death
row, a number of whom, over time, grow into their opposites.
it comes to rendering judgment, we, as a species, are incurably
quick on the draw. A good friend introduces his new wife and in
seconds we are ticking off the categories. The same holds true
with the unregenerate phony upon whom we reflexively heap our
accusation and scorn when he properly deserves to be regaled as
an object of universal envy and mimicked in every way for his
uncanny ability to spontaneously adapt to whatever the weather
holds in store. As someone with no fixed address, he is nature’s
most marvelous creation and natural selection’s favourite
more and more actors are entering the political arena should come
as no surprise since saying what isn’t meant is the stock
in trade of the actor whose gift is such that he actually means
it as he says it: the tears are real. We believe in our politicians
because they are believable. The supreme power of the politician
lies in the many selves he is able to project which allows him
to expeditiously translate his incontinent wanting into humungous
constant in our preoccupation with self-hood and self-actualization
is change, just as the truth of all human endeavor is a quantum
construct, which makes happiness and what constitutes meaningful
life moving targets to which we must be constantly adjusted, which
is why, over the course of a lifetime, once fiercely held views
or positions, when allowed, often morph into their opposite.
a law of life that there are no absolutes in life, we must hold
those who honour and defend them -- by precluding debate and freedom
of choice in themselves and others – responsible for the
human carnage that ensues when opinion is tendered as hard and
fast truth, and unconditional loyalty to a position or group is
confused for virtue.