Why be a consistent person, when there is so much to miss out on?
One of the most profound metaphors for life surely has to be that old familiar saying, ‘all the world’s a stage’ taken from Shakespeare:
”All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts”.
But perhaps to think of this world as a stage play is slightly misleading. Plays, as well as films and short television dramas, are all identifiable by their very specific timeframes, and the fact that they all have some kind of a moral or meaning to them, something for the audience to take away and ponder. I think people wish for their lives to be seen as plays or film scripts because surely there has to be some end game and some meaning eventually. Maybe the world, and the life we humans live upon it, can better be compared with a British soap opera. Some of our most beloved shows in Britain have been going for over 20 years, if not more. They differ significantly with films or stage plays because they don’t really come with an end game. To conclude a show like Eastenders or Coronation Street seems very odd to us.
Soap Operas are, in this sense, Television’s true alternative realities. They come with a group of characters that is ever changing. Occasionally you’ll get storylines that promote one particular character’s story over another, but then those characters either die, ride off into the sunset or simply fade into the background. The show is never about one particular person or group of people. There is a generational development played out over the years to the point where older people will amuse themselves with the fact that younger people can’t remember this particular character who left the show years ago, and are now more interested in these modern day characters that are really just reincarnations of the previous generation playing out the same story arcs.
Another peculiar thing about soap operas and their actors, is that as soon as we are used to a person being his or her soap opera character, we find it difficult to get used to them in another role on another TV show. It is the unfortunate truth for actors that if you make too big a name for yourself in a soap opera, you will find it incredibly difficult to find a similar amount of success in any other role, especially on television.
This, again, is quite an apt metaphor for life. If the world is a stage, and we are its actors, then we are naturally defined as people by the characters we display, and it is incredibly difficult to be anything else in other people’s eyes. Others will say to us things like, ‘that’s not like you’, or ‘she hasn’t been herself lately’. And I suppose this is understandable, and it appears to be a trait of human beings that we like consistency in people. When we enter into a relationship or a marriage, we are effectively gambling on this particular person never changing in any fundamental way. When marriages break up, it is often coated in resentment due to the fact that the image we had of that person when we first got together with them has changed, and that person has in some way lied to us about who they truly are, or were.
And there is really no remedy for this, nor indeed must there be. People make up life, and the fact that life, and the people in it, are not consistent, will never alter the fact that people generally want it to be. The stress and anxiety this brings will also, it seems, be a permanent feature of human existence, and that’s just the way things are.
On an individual level, however, this shouldn’t discourage us from the realisation that we are really just temporary actors, playing out some kind of an existence, and as difficult as others might find it, there is no reason to become too invested in our characters to the point where we become rigid beings, incapable of adapting to new experiences and new perspectives. If you act in a way that results in others saying ‘well, that’s not like you’, take this as a positive sign that you’ve truly come to terms with the idea of yourself as the actor. Use that as a catalyst for acting in other ways not akin to the image others have of you. There is nothing wrong with being multiple people throughout your time here, maybe its a case of the more the better!
After all, the root of our word ‘person’ comes from the word ‘persona’ which means a kind of mask, used by actors or just people attempting to disguise themselves. And with that in mind, do you really want to live your life as a ‘consistent person?’.