On Mental Separations
Published September 2017 in Bilkent News.
Speaking to ourselves, we tend to use the second person – “Why are you doing this?” we might rage after a petty error, or on an inert night say, “You should be working”; and we will say these things quietly, sometimes out loud, dividing our consciousness into the parts that seem easiest to manipulate. Vilifying one section as slow or mean allows us to move on with the remaining “good” parts, saving us from having to acknowledge that our behavior at any time results from a complex string of influences that relate to our personality and experiences, and that there are no wrong bits to cut out: everything we do is us.When we’re feeling cooperative, the pronoun switches to “we”: “Let’s go,” we might tell ourselves when we’re finished with a task, addressing a body of things inside us as we float over to another. At the very best of moments, however, it’s always “I”: “I’ve done it!” we think excitedly, I’ve managed, it’s me, it’s me. This particular tendency to take credit only for the better is easy to observe in all corners of life; what makes it interesting is that it seems to reside in the very heart of our self-conception, that we use it as a method to remain functional, coaxing and goading some child inside ourselves to do what we want it to. “I only have a couple more to go” is a statement to be spoken to a separate person; the furtive “You’re almost there” flits through the brain without warning. But perhaps it might serve us better to recognize what sleeps in our brain, taking into account the whole self, with its loves and failures, instead of creating personae for ourselves. Perhaps the knowledge of what we really are, what we cannot do in the night or in the drab heat, what somehow does not always work – perhaps it is this knowledge that will allow us to grow over ourselves, handling each strain of our thinking with some delicacy and restraint, and managing to finally understand what it is that makes us thrust the bad, the low away from ourselves, and why we so need to name even the loveliest peculiarities. Names are somewhat of a pain, after all.
People are easily tossed into one of many categories that concern both the individual and society at large – a child, an adult, a friend or colleague – and others treat them accordingly, which drains some of the pleasure out of life. Each person to be interacted with is a person of their own, someone to whom we might relate in various ways. By trapping people in well-defined relations we continuously miss out on the way they see the world, their experiences and perspectives, their eye for beauty; we are confined to a certain number of acceptable practices for each “box” of person. None of these involve peering into the pits of life, and in our segregation we sink back into the inertia of our own thoughts, our own desires. This then may be the reason we so need to hold companions in our heads; if we were to simply look outward, to let people be people and events be events, to watch a tree and notice its thin leaves, and watch a stranger to see their heart, there would be a vast amount of living in life, and perhaps we might notice that there’s no reason to shrink from an error because we’re human, and a person like any other, with numerous bends and hollows, and that in our personhood there are some scratches, and that’s all right. There is no perfection in a land of arbitrary morals and relative evils; there can be no perfection because there’s nothing to model it on. A drawing of a tree is only perfect to the extent that it resembles the average tree; we describe things as perfect when they fit our own needs, or when they come close to the common average of desires. Our notions of beauty and intelligence all derive from what a large body of people wish to possess, or admire in others: if we were all to change the way we look at ourselves, perhaps perfection would be wildly different. It would be quite pleasant to at least try and do this.
The segmentation and categorization of our own minds reflects the way we look at everyone else, at the world and its many lovers, the hollows and slouchers of the earth. By separating a number of identities within ourselves we make it easier to handle the various aspects of our personalities; instead of treating the mind as a whole, we might accuse one part of sabotaging the other, or choose to display a select few to one person and the rather decrepit many to someone else, and through this process of cutting and shifting stitch together a sheath for all our sharper odds and ends, whether these are directed inward or outward at the time. What we’re missing is that these sharpnesses are what make us interesting; acknowledging them in ourselves is a step toward appreciation of our entire being, with all its many failures, and then the loving of the myriad wrongs of the world. The squinting-and-labeling period all acquaintances undergo could be passed over, forgotten, if we only knew how to get wrapped up in each other, probing with fascination the recesses of the brain, probing without thinking of the person as anything else than a person – not a mother or a friend or a stranger but a person – and making things out of this watching, adjusting minutely the way we are inside. This willingness to observe and change might be a way to finally get our hands on life: knowing what lurks there in other people’s bodies, learning what there is to be seen in the sun.