Psychiatrists say what we do when we are alone is often a barometer of who we are. The exterior us — how we smile and what we say — tells only part of the tale. The interior us — what we’re feeling and how we’re processing those feelings — tells the the other and more significant part.
Surly comic W.C. Fields put it this way: “Start every day with a smile and get it over with!” Now freed to be yourself, you can get into the morning rush hour flashing all the rage and profanity you otherwise tend to contain behind those smiles.
Some therapists go further and suggest this terrifying thought. The true you is the you you are alone in that car caught in traffic. Personally I have to hope not…! Fortunately they go on to say there are gentler barometric readings such as what we dance and sing to when we’re by ourself. OK, that helps…! Overall, put it this way. Perhaps what we call character often manifests itself most clearly when, say, we’re all alone at night in another city.
All things considered, there may be factors other than personal at work in shaping our character. There is this current political dialog about our shrinking Middle Class status. Reading some of the reports is enough to turn any Dr Jekyll into a Mr Hyde. Take one of my former colleagues at the University of Northwestern. Economic historian Joseph Ferrie has just completed a longitudinal study of families from different nations over the last 200 years. His conclusion: The American Dream [the myth anyone can pull himself up by his own bootstraps and rise above] has been greatly exaggerated.
Tracing family histories from the 19th C: “As much as 60% of our social status is determined at the time of conception. Meaning if you’re born into an elite class, you tend to remain in that class. As do your family members down through the generations. The same being true if born into a less privileged class.”
So when our fiction bumps into our facts, there may be a lot more to be angry about than just rush hour Could it be our popular mythmakers — like Horatio Alger in ‘Strive and Succeed,’ F. Scott Fitzgerald in ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and Jay Z in ‘Hard Knock Life’ — got it all wrong? Got us all wrong? Am I stuck just being where I am?
Damn. Bring on that traffic, because I’m roaring through!
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