Recognizing Yourself

I was just talking with my mother about American Beauty – good movie, by the way; you should give it a try – and how frightening I found the boy, Ricky, when I saw the movie. For one thing, his eyebrows are intimidating. For another, his gaze is intense but his air is withdrawn. One of his first lines is filled with a hate so fierce it’s frightening, all the more so for being utterly unexpected. When I saw the movie, I didn’t know whether he was faking it; I considered, but I leaned toward believing his sincerity, and that scared me all the more.

When I told all this to my mother just now, she said knowingly, “That’s because you recognize yourself in him. You’re very intense.”

“Am I?” I asked, a bit surprised. She nodded emphatically. She went on to describe me just as I’d described Ricky: He looks at the world from many perspectives, but he doesn’t show it – he seems very certain of his beliefs. He’s very focused in his manner and in his speech. He doesn’t show his thoughts, though he doesn’t mind telling them if you ask. I realized that she was right, that is rather similar to me.   “But why would that be frightening?”

“It’s always frightening to encounter yourself – to discover what you’re like – especially when you don’t expect what you find. Even if it’s just a piece of yourself; even if you don’t notice it on a conscious level.”

“But why?” I insisted, still perplexed.

She considered. “Perhaps because you don’t know how to react to this person. Perhaps because you can’t defend yourself against this person. Perhaps because you can’t dismiss their thoughts or actions or say ‘I would never do something like that’.”

That made some sense. I ruminated further. “It scared me,” I said slowly, “when he spoke with such force and such hatred. It frightens me when people who seem so forceful are so vehement about -”

“About the wrong reasons,” she finished for me, smiling as she did because she knows me too well.

“Yes. And it’s true that it’s similar to me,” I continued pensively. “I feel a passionate sort of hatred for people who are this intolerant. (Yes, I am fully aware of the irony.) I know the strength of that emotion, and I wouldn’t want it used for prejudice and ostracism.”

My mother knows me well and we’ve discussed it before, so she didn’t comment. I continued contemplating why recognizing yourself in others is so daunting. It was fascinating, I promise. Unfortunately, I am exhausted and must sleep. I will update this post with deep and philosophical musings when I can.


I guess I never could.


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