The Parable of the Sullen Teenager

We are, just like all creatures on this planet, at the mercy of how we interpret the stimuli of our environment. An owl sees better at night, most bats utilize echolocation, a toad with its limited sense of movement. Although we are inclined to think ourselves far beyond the limits of our interpretations because of our differing gift, consciousness, we forget that we are just interpreters of the handful of senses we have.

    That means that each of our realities is distinct and separate, from subtle nuances to grand differences. When you speak to someone who has been blind since birth, you sense a disconnect because the reality you are sharing is interpreted entirely differently between the two of you. 

    It’s wonderfully absurd, isn’t it? It’s wondrous, how different we all behold this maddening experience of living.

    Perspective is our key to happiness. Perspective is the lock and cage to our despair.

    We are the keepers of both. As we go through life, sometimes we make the brave decision to snatch the key and unlock ourselves, other times, we stubbornly run for the lock, addicts to comfort zones, to lock ourselves in.

    So how do we take advantage of holding the key? 

    Allow me to illustrate a brief scene to demonstrate an answer.

    It is a pleasant, but chilly day in a blooming autumn. There is a boy sitting on a bench in a park, his head bent over his journal, writing feverishly. Somewhere halfway down the second page, he begins to break down.

Art by Jessica Woulfe

Art by Jessica Woulfe

    Some ink smears on the page from his tears, and it takes him a few minutes to collect himself while strangers pass by, pretending to be oblivious.

    One man watching from another bench shakes his head, gets up and walks away.

    He crosses path with a woman who had also been watching this occur, but her eyes are wide and touched by the moment. He’s found a moment to scorn while she’s found one to savor.

    “Just another proverbial teenager,” he decides, “probably writing about a silly heartbreak. Self-pitying in his diary, feebly seeking attention by doing it in public, unable to outwit his own sadness.”

    But the woman shakes her head. “Maybe he’s reflecting on the impermanence of everything. The horror of its brevity is striking him, yet the contrasting beauty of it inspires him, too. And he’s applying that realization to the relationships that come and go through his life. He’s an artist in the making, a soul in reflection. You can see it in his eyes.”

    These two strangers saw the same boy, but two very different people. One has decided to see a diminished individual of boyish silliness, the other has decided upon a vibrant character adding color to the community (metaphorically speaking, of course he is wearing only black), and is inspired by what she’s allowed herself to see in him.

    As interpreters of our experiences, it is our choice whether or not we see value in them.

    We are so merciless with how we pass judgement to others. We often see someone or something, decide upon the story behind it, and move on. Sadly, we even do it with ourselves.

    We should work to observe a reality that is touched by beauty. A fixed and immutable perspective serves only to limit our progress, granting us far less movement than we are capable of, and a tasteless experience of life that offers nothing.

    When we go out into the world, we should not let it spoon-feed us bitterness and a jaded sense of aging. That’s not to say we should shade our eyes from evil. No, we should speak and act out against it. But in circumstances like the sullen teenager, we are either limited or liberated by the perspectives we choose. And in my opinion, it is a small evil to judge another when you could very well lift them up, see them for the complex and fascinating fragment of human nature that they most likely are, in light of their despair.

    It is easy to see beauty and happiness in the bliss of another. But it is remarkable to peel back the misery one feels, to recognize it for the splendor that may lay at the heart of it.

    When we have the option, (and we always do), we can show ourselves what it is there. It is worth the effort to use imagination as a tool to dissect the situations we chance upon, to ruminate upon the circumstances and empathize based on what we can conjure in our minds.

    And after you peel back the layers, yes, eat the fruit. Eat that succulent, delicious fruit of knowledge because it’s damned tasty and to hell with it, we weren’t innocent for very long, anyways.

    What magnificence in human nature lay in the complexity of it, and it is with compassion, empathy, and an open mind that we can seek to understand it better, allowing us to not only love ourselves more wholesomely, but others as well.


This post was inspired by a chapter in the book The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Stone Zander. I’ll be posting an in-depth review and analysis of the book when I’ve finished it.