“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”
― George R.R. Martin
“I’ve tried to become someone else for a while,
only to discover that he, too, was me.”
― Stephen Dunn
Who am I and who am I in relation to other people? At my core what do I contain and what contains me? We draw other people into our lives and interact with them and with each interaction the question becomes both clearer and more muddied. Tonight My son took us for Father’s Day to see the Canadian touring company of Les Misérables, a musical that’s well-loved by my family. At its core, aside from the historical milieu it shows a series of interactions between people that changes one or both of them. The more adaptable the person is to circumstances, the better they are at integrating the exchange and becoming more themselves. This is personified best in the characters and interactions between the two main characters Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert. Jean Valjean portrays a man unjustly imprisoned for a crime who is freed and then pursued by his jailer Javert. Javert sees things as absolutes. A criminal is always a criminal and society must be protected by them. He sees nothing wrong with acting dishonestly himself to catch criminals because he is on the ‘right’ side of the law. Jean Valjean is more concerned with doing the right and honourable thing and finds his true identity through his choices. Each encounter between Valjean and Javert transforms both as more and more Valjean chooses honesty over his societal role and Javert choosing his moral (as opposed to ethical) absolutes. Javert when forced to go beyond his societal identity and his rigid sense of right and wrong finds himself unable to live in a world where a thief can have more honour than an officer of the law.
Are we defined by our society or by our inner being? How do we test this if not through other people? This question has come up for me a lot in my life. Ultimately I may pick up much from the viewpoints and being of those around me but all my attempt to live according to some label has proved more and more laughable. My interactions with both Valjean and Javier have driven home that point. But then I have always interacted well with fictional characters, no matter how real they may be.
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