There are places in our lives that we either can’t see or choose not to see. We all have them, and despite our better efforts to be as honest in our self-assessments as possible, these aspects of our personalities remain hidden from us. In a matter of speaking: We can’t see what we can’t see.
The interesting thing about blind spots is that when someone else points them out to us, we typically become defensive. Each of us creates in our own minds a persona – that person whom we strive to be but often fall short of. It’s not that we are not capable of living up to our own idealized versions of ourselves, it’s that we are fallible human beings with emotions, and hormones, and psychopathy that get in the way of our perfected self-images. Yes – we want to be good people, the best people, the best parents, the best writers, the best employees, the best partners. We want to believe that we are kind, loving, forgiving, and all the other beneficent qualities that society teaches us (and our parents and grandparents taught us) were to be prized.
But we fail.
We get jealous. We get frustrated. We get angry.
We allow our humanness to blind us to emotional and psychological aspects of our personalities that are weaker or less desireable. And then, when confronted by these weaknesses, we lash out because we don’t want to be associated with the traits we consider negative, or even bad.
For writers, though, it is these very blind spots that make stories more interesting, make characters more believable, and breathe life into fiction. As a writer, I find it a fascinating part of my job to notice and study the blind spots of others and to attempt to understand how these discrepancies reveal themselves and how they impact the person they affect. I like to find them in my own life and determine their impact on me, then try to change them if I can. And I’m particularly fond of watching people who make a hobby out of identifying the blind spots of others while completely ignoring their own.
Let me give an example: My husband and I had a conversation recently about buying a new car. I’ve wanted a new car for quite some time. I drive a 2001 Dodge Grand Caravan with more than 150,000 miles on it.
Don’t get me wrong here: I’m happy to have a running vehicle. It has been a great car for the past 9 years, and during those years where I was hauling three kids plus their friends, it was the perfect car to have. But my needs have changed. I want a smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicle. I want something cute and fun to drive. I want a Mustang convertible:
I’ve been discussing buying one with my hubby since before Christmas. I’ve researched costs, insurance, trade-in values on the van, etc. Hubby is dragging his feet. I finally confronted him about why he wouldn’t move forward with me on this, and his response was:
“It isn’t one of my priorities.”
And I replied, “So if it isn’t important to you, it just simply isn’t important?”
In pointing out this blind spot, I thought I’d make him aware of an issue that he wasn’t seeing. Instead, he made me aware of one of my own blind spots:
“Just because you get fixated on something doesn’t mean everyone else needs to jump when you say so.”
That wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought he would certainly see things my way and immediately capitulate. I expected him to say, “Let’s go today and find that car!” because that is how I felt about it. I projected my wants and my excitement on to him instead of trying to understand why he was being so slow to take action.
Yes, there were hurt feelings – on both sides. We talked through things and he realized that this was important to me not just because I wanted a new car, but because I was finally in a financially position to buy one. He had been reluctant because he thought I wanted him to pay for it. After we worked through the blind spots, we both realized we had been protecting our blind spots, not wanting to confront our own part in the misunderstanding.
For many of us, the truth is that we are exceptionally good at identifying the weaknesses of others, but not so good at identifying them in ourselves. It’s an interesting corollary that we point out those weaknesses in others which we are most resistant to acknowledging in ourselves. The folks who want to stand up and yell “I own my own issues,” are more times than not the ones who are ready to point fingers and blame others while completely ignoring their own behaviors. We all project our insecurities and frustrations on others, and to deny that is just laughable.
Writers see these behavioral oddities and use them as a source of characterization. They see the inconsistencies and hiccups as part of what makes all of us human. Instead of expressing outrage at the blind spots in other people, we look for the results of those blind spots, the way they alter circumstances. We ask questions of ourselves and apply the answers toward making our stories more realistic and our characters more believable.
Thank goodness for blind spots – they keep the world and the people in it from becoming predictable.