Seeing potential or seeing reality ~ why I’m not a good judge of character.


Seeing potential or seeing reality ~ why I’m not a good judge of character.


I dreamed last night of someone I’ve had no contact with for five years, someone who I was close friends with at university and for some years afterwards. Five years ago, our sputtering friendship sputtered out altogether in a heated exchange of emails that began as what I thought was an exploration of an area of metaphysics she’d become heavily involved with and ended with me being lambasted for not choosing to take on everything she believed to be true. At the time I was shocked and upset because it felt as though one of my oldest friends had turned on me and tried to rip me to shreds. It felt like it had come out of left-field and was completely unpredictable.

After years of intermittent reflection, I’ve realised it was very much a part of the patterns she’d already exhibited. I’d just never got in the way before. My only big hint was when I’d remarked that a company she was involved in back in the mid nineties, (which sold over-priced aloe vera products with some very grandiose claims) came remarkably close to being pyramid selling. This provoked a brief but fiery diatribe (fronted with those immortal words, “with respect”) along the lines that I knew nothing whatsoever about it and should just shut the **** up. I did. Analysing every scheme, company or church she was ever involved with now makes me see that she was far from the person I believed her to be.

We met when I was 18 and she a few years older and at that time she was very kind and caring. She helped me through some tough times. The long nights putting the world to rights, not to mention each other, showed me what at the time I thought was her true self.

Now I am far from sure. I think I saw her potential, and I acted for the duration of our friendship as if that potential were a here-and-now reality. So the final bitter exchange of words in email came as a huge shock to me, as if she’d changed so drastically from the person I’d thought I’d known. I can see now that she hadn’t changed at all. That in itself was the problem. The person I saw her becoming never arrived.

I’ve done this constantly in my life, but thankfully, so far only four friendships have ended in this way, when reality and my belief in someone’s potential have collided so violently there has been nothing left to salvage. It last happened over a year ago, and the pain it caused me was immense. But conversely, the discoveries it brought me might actually be worth that distress.

I seldom see just who a person is now without also seeing beside them a kind of ghostly hologram of their possible self, which shines and glows and is sometimes so compelling I can become entranced by that potential I forget ( if I ever realised) that this is not what they are now but who they might become. It’s this aspect of it that makes keener the grief of loss when a friendship ends, because it’s not merely the death knell of a relationship that enriched me, but it’s also a very real death of an unborn, unrealised shining soul. Of course, this seems very arrogant to imagine that the severing of my links with a person means that they won’t become a greater being; that’s not what I mean. It means that I will never get to see that transformation.

In the case of my old friend, I can only see a deepening of her flaws and when I saw a recent picture of her, I can see no joy in her eyes, joy that I know I saw once, when we were both young and hopeful of what life might bring us.

Time brings wisdom if we allow it, and now I wonder if I ought to try and NOT see the shining being standing alongside those I meet. Have I the right to impose my visions on others, with my unconscious expectations of their journeys? I do not know the answer to this. But treating everyone as the person they might one day become may be just the factor they need to achieve it, by having someone who believes in them now.

If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe