Saturday, 21 May 2011

What makes us ourselves

and what happens when something happens to change what we are?
I am not going to try and answer those questions. They are much too big - but I have been wondering about them.
I have been wondering because someone I know (if only virtually), like and respect has been struggling with those questions too. She was involved in a road accident and her appearance changed. As a result she does not like having her photograph taken. I can understand that - and saying to her that she should not mind the way she now looks is a bit like telling someone with depression that they should "just get over it". Life does not work like that.
A change in appearance is not merely a physical thing. It is also a psychological thing. It can change our perception of who and what we are.
There is a cranio-facial surgeon I know of who has a reputation for prima-donna like behaviour in the operating theatre. Most people will forgive him any amount of such behaviour because he does the sort of surgery that can give people with the severest of deformities "a face", something they can live with and that those around them will accept. Despite his prima-donna like behaviour in the operating theatre his patients speak highly of him and so do those who observe him with his patients. He understands he is changing more than their appearance and that change, even if desperately wanted, can be frightening. It is changing who they are inside as well as out.
My late friend Margaret used to make socks for this man. She was one of the few people who was not in awe of him. It was more likely that he was in awe of her. She understood his fear of changing people on the inside as well as the outside. He controls that fear and turns it to courage and it is what makes him a good doctor. It allows him to help his patients face the same problem with the same courage but that will not necessarily mean they want to have their photographs taken.
I do not like having my photograph taken either. My avatar is a picture of the back view of a cat sitting on a pile of books. A psychiatrist would probably have a field day with the image but I feel comfortable with it. I would not feel comfortable putting my photograph up on the internet for everyone to see. I am that cat sitting on the pile of books. A photograph would present an entirely different picture of me.
For many people there will always be a gap between who they are on the inside and what they look like on the outside. We need to respect the inside person.


widdershins said...

I have scars on my leg from my ankle to my hip. (from the many surgeries that put my leg together) It took me many years to be able to wear shorts in public.

Kids were the easiest. They'd stare until I said it didn't hurt, and some of them would get through their parents ... whatever ... and ask really interesting questions.

I knew that I had finished walking that path when I saw the scars and damage in my dreams.

We truly greater than the sum of our parts.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post.

And consider the idea that we are who we are and what can happen if someone else seeks to paint us in a light that makes us different and makes this light bright and shouty and public so that when people look at us they see this manufactured idea of who we are and not who we really are.

There's a truly great old film with Henry Fonda in it where it is a case of mistaken identity and this good man has his whole life trashed for something he did not do. Set free and exonerated in the end, I think, but by then he has lost everything. (Can't remember the title of the film, sorry)

Take a person who is good and does good and always has. Then she does something wrong, one thing, and she is caught and charged and found guilty. This good person is now defined by the wrong that she did and it is stacked up against all the good she ever was and she is become bad in the eyes of the world. Does that seem right? And what can this do to that person? Can it make them bad thereafter? And then think what prisons can do to offenders, and it is no wonder that they reoffend and that they climb the ladder to more serious offences as a result of being banged up.

This is indeed a very interesting subject that you have touched on. It should make people think and question.

D.J.Kirkby said...

Many of us do respect the person you are writing about but we also think she is beautiful on the outside too. I do not think that we are wrong to tell her so. I, for one, was not trying to make light of her trauma but did want to demonstrate that others see her differently than she sees herself. I am certain many others had the same intention when they complimented her on the photograph.