By John Lee Pendall
“People can be more than one thing, Joel.” – Gary West in Santa Clarita Diet
Gary was kind of a creep.
Then, after a traumatic event (I’ll try not to spoil it for you in case you want to watch the show), he reveals a more caring side, and asks the main characters to help his niece. The quote was a response to their surprise at him actually giving a damn about someone other than himself.
I think it’s a great quote. It challenges this notion we have that people only have one side, one all-encompassing self. We’re all a hodge-podge of different traits, views and behaviors that come out in different situations. A lot of these traits are contradictory. Someone might be a cruel POS, but still love their dog. Or they might help a lot of people, but steal clothes from the local department store for some kind of thrill.
Most of the stories we grow up on are full of heroes and villains, and the line between them is always clear. The cowboy in the white hat wearing a badge is the good guy; the grizzled drunk in the black hat is the bad guy. Really, the anti-hero is closer to life. Those characters who inhabit a moral gray area are arguably the most loved characters in this era because they reflect the zeitgeist.
There’s very little I like about our culture, but I’m glad it’s finally giving up the good vs. evil duality. Life is more complicated these days, and our fictional role models portray that complexity. It’s less about Buddhas and Maras now, and more about Deadpools, Punishers, and Gregory Houses.
We’re all more than just one thing.
That’s human-nature, conflicting traits all clamoring for control. The only difference between us and someone with dissociative identity disorder is that we don’t black out and create new biographies for each of our dispositions. They’re all us, and then we spend our lives trying to make sense of ourselves and the world.
We are always balancing our needs, wants, and priorities. We’re rarely 100% satisfied, because even as we sit down and relax, there might be a part of us that wants to experience something thrilling, and vice versa, while out and about having an adventure, we might also wish that we were at home, relaxing in bed. Rarely are we ever on the same page with ourselves.
To me, none of this is really problematic. It’s the wish for it to be otherwise that causes problems.
I spent years wishing that I could just be me, whoever the fuck that is. I wanted to have consistent views, consistent reactions and consistent moods. What a freakin’ moron I was. Consistency and stability just aren’t on the menu in our lives. Even if we somehow manage to settle down and make each day a perfect replica of the one before it, our hearts and minds are still going to roam. Eventually, they’ll roam so far that this stable home and work life we’ve created will start to seem stale. Entropy sets in, and we start to seek out unhealthy ways to cope with the suburban malaise.
The not-self teachings say, “Forget that shit. You’re not just one thing.”
I’m dedicated to peace, non-violence, and acceptance, but I’ll sometimes step into the woods and rage out. I’ll scream and flail my arms, and try to assert my individuality in the face of a vast universe that seems to say that life is pointless and that I’m nothing.
I love to laugh more than anything else; it’s my favorite activity. But I’ll write and ponder the darkest, most depressing shit imaginable. I generally try to help anyone who needs it, but if someone reaches for one of my French fires, I’ll have to suppress the urge to stab them with a fork. Because I’m not just one thing.
I have my angels and my demons, and they all hangout together in the same clearing. I’m not a good person, and I’m not a bad person. I’m a person. With that in mind, who am I to judge?
I can’t relate to people who’ve settled into one way of being with the world. Even a chair can be a table in a pinch, or it can be a paperweight, firewood and a dozen other things. Why would we be different? After all, people made chairs. Much like that one passage from the Bible says, we create things in our own image. Hell, we even created God in our own image, complete with His contradictory nature of unconditional love on one hand, and untamed wrath on the other. What’s more human than that?
Everything we’ve made as a species says something about our nature. Our inventions are as varied as we are. We’re all creators and destroyers, lovers and fighters. Each of us has the same potential to bring light into the world or snuff it out, the same way that each hand has the capacity to hold, caress, hit or strangle.
In the same way that what we do with our hands shapes them over time, the traits that either thrive or wither comes down to the choices we make. Whenever we feed a trait what it wants, it becomes stronger. If we satisfy the warrior in us over and over, then that warrior comes to dominate us. If we satisfy the pacifist over and over, the pacifist becomes the monarch.
The point, as far as I can tell, is to not have any dominant traits at all—not even benevolent ones. Instead, we put awareness in charge, always mindful of the clearing that our traits inhabit. That’s how we learn to play nice with ourselves, and—by extension–the world.
When it’s all said and done, there is one thing that we can be: not just one thing.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, and his blog "Salty Dharma".