How We Are Defined

I was asked an interesting question recently: does one character flaw corrupt a person entirely?

I’m inclined to say no- the idea that any one thing can define an entire person goes against many of the things I believe in. I believe that human beings are incredibly complex, that we are multi-faceted. We are defined by our characteristics as a whole, and they are not to be individually analyzed. I believe that I am many things; a student, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a daughter. Even in a single moment, I am a combination of these things, and to say that I am ever only one is simply a false statement. And that only scrapes the surface of labels, something that only beings to paint the picture of who we are. More than the hats we wear, we are the things we do and the words we speak.

Humans are a perfect example of yin and yang, just as it is with most things in this world. With the dark comes the light, and even in those who shine the brightest, some darker aspects lie within. No matter how pure a person is, or how good their intentions are, they’re going to make a mistake somewhere along the way. The people we look up to- our mentors, our parents, our friends- have lied, hurt, and stolen. Some more than others, some worse than others, but we have all done things we are ashamed of. It is what we learned and took away from these mistakes that defines us, and keeps the darkness from crowding out the light. But if we were to break people down into the individual decisions they’ve made throughout their lives, we would see a world filled with cold-hearted thieves and liars, not the reality of good people with ill-guided pasts.

But beyond the pedantics of attaching our judgements to a single moment in time are the observances of patterns. This is where my opinion begins to blur. If someone consistently lies, steals, or hurts others, while being a pleasant person the rest of the time, does the bad outweigh the good? It certainly overthrows the balance of yin and yang, and serves as the opposite of the previous examples. Instead of being generally positive people with instances of negative actions, these are people who seem to be largely negative with instances of positivity. At this point, are they really being defined by a single character flaw, or are they being defined by the majority of their actions and decisions?

I struggle with labelling anyone as “bad” or “wrong”, as I like to view the world through more understanding lenses. I want to believe that true evil is incredibly rare: it’s much more likely to see the deeply hurt, wronged, or sick make decisions from a place so dark that their judgement is impaired. In a time filled with increasingly prevalent evils such as mass shootings, it’s sometimes hard to maintain this perspective, especially when the heartbreak is so fresh and the actions seem so heartless. But I can’t stand to live in a world where people don’t have reasons for what they do, no matter how poor the decisions they came to were.

One flaw does not corrupt a person. It’s only when that flaw becomes metastatic in your being that it begins to define you. A bad habit repeated too often can begin to become so much more in the blink of an eye. I think back to the roots of my experience with an eating disorder- a compulsive, repetitive expression of mental illness. There was a time where those habits and actions began to crowd out the real aspects of myself, when the obsessions, secrecy, and compulsions began to leave no more room for compassion, creativity, or peace. I shifted the balance too far to the dark, and the light struggled to be seen. Was I defined by my disorder? At that time in my life, I believe I was. The real me, the me that was capable of love and passion was not present to my own life. It was struggling to be see through the darkness that spread through my body like a cancer. But I didn’t become that shell of a person overnight- it took years of struggling to get to a point where the final threads of myself began to snap under the pressure.

It wasn’t the single flaw of “anorexic” that defined me. No- it was so much more than that. It was the lying, the isolation, the panic that defined me. It was the sleepless nights and sleepwalked days. It was only once I reached a point that I couldn’t distinguish myself from the disorder that I was more illness than human. A single flaw cannot define a person: we are not bridges or buildings that can come crashing down from a single error. We are the great rocks of the earth, evolving over time through the crashing of waves and gentle moulding of wind. It takes slow, constant change to be redefined- for better or for worse.

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