I began reading Hard Times by Charles Dickens during my vacation, getting a huge chunk of it read on my plane ride home Sunday night. I can't really put into words how much I love Dickens. Generally, this is true of all Victorian literature. I admire the way Victorian authors manage to use such grand, ornate language and still produce superior wit.
This isn't really about literature, I just had to say that.
Toward the beginning of Hard Times, Dickens is describing the Gradgrind family and how their lives are so ordered and compartmentalized. Everything, from the appearance of their home to their roles in the family, is balanced and intentional. The reader gets the feeling that something is going to happen to shake the order of the Gradgrind universe upon reading this initial description.
It got me to thinking. I'm betting that, while I'll talk in the first person, these observations are true for most of you.
I have these compartments built into my head that tell me exactly how I want others to fit into my life. There are places for my children, my family, my friends, my future mate, my teachers, my future students, and anyone else that has potential to impact my life.
These compartments dictate not only how I want these people to fit into my life but, ideally, what characteristics these people will possess.
For example, my ideal student will understand my sense of humor and know that they can trust me and say or write anything in my classroom without judgement. They will relax and want to learn from me, they will eagerly enter each day asking what we're going to do. They will all be equal and special to me.
I'm speaking in generalities and, even as such, I know that it won't happen like that for each student. But that's what the compartment dictates.
When it comes to my children, I'm proud of how I have and continue to raise them. They fit quite well into their compartments. Until I notice something. Things that bother me to no end about other people's children don't quite bother me as much about my own.
My thoughts, then, about the perfect boxes I've created to manage my relationships are that it becomes a beaming contradiction in what I'll tolerate from people I care about against what I think I'll theoretically tolerate.
I see this in many of my relationships.
I think this is most interesting when I observe romantic connections (not even in my own life, but the lives of people I know- but I'm going to stick to first person here). When it comes to romantic relationships, I'm just as guilty as the next of fantasizing about what my ideal mate will look like, act like, what his interests will be, his habits, etc. But when it comes down to it, Mr. Perfect is rarely who I'm drawn to. Instead, I find myself reshaping my box so Mr. Not-so-perfect fits in. I think everyone does that.
Those of you who really know me are aware of the fact that I avoid conflict at all costs. It makes me extremely uncomfortable and I believe that some people may unintentionally take advantage of that. Even so, those people are still in my life and I still care about them.
I haven't even come close to finishing Hard Times yet and I don't know what kind of ruin or punishment the Gradgrinds are going to suffer for naively putting faith in their compartments. What about me? Is it okay to change the shape of my boxes so as to accommodate those that I really want in my life even if it compromises my ideals? Will it come back to haunt me if I do? Will the ideals even make me happy in the long run?