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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    The Book of James

    Have you ever been in the situation where you think you know somebody well, and then he or she will completely shock you by dropping a bombshell about his or her past?’ I haven’t.’ Been shocked, that is.’ Experiences are only important to the extent that they influence a person’s character.’ After one conversation, most people are going to form a whole judgment about the other person.’ Given that most of these judgments are accurate, which I believe them to be, why does it matter how an individual’s character developed?

    The underlying message here, one that I’ll be tackling in multiple entries, is that character is inherently dispositional, not situational.’ This sounds like an easy enough concept to embrace, and yet people consistently fail to utilize this on a daily basis.’ I will provide an example: you meet a girl and get to talking.’ The talk is mostly surface level, about school and movies and everyday mundane things.’ At this point, you know everything you need to know about each other to make accurate character judgments.’ You can see the way she carries herself, her mannerisms, her tells, and like everybody, she’s got a million of them.’ Based on this multitude of information, some verbal and most not, you have built an accurate mental representation of the other.

    A few conversations later, she reveals to you a horrible secret in her past.’ She was abused by her parents.’ She has a juvenile record.’ She grew up ashamed of her class status.’ The revelation doesn’t matter, the point is that it is now out in the open.’ For some odd reason, a common response to this is shock and reevaluation.’ Not only should you not be shocked, her past should be completely congruent with the mental representation of her character you already have.’ In fact, it is.

    So why do you experience that moment of shock?’ My bet is that the answer is to preserve our sense of self.’ We have grown to lie to ourselves, to believe that we couldn’t have known so much about a person from so little interaction.’ It plays to our own sense of privacy.’ If I accept that I know all the important contours of your being after one interaction, then I am completely exposed as well.’ I must accept that you know me after one conversation and any sense of secrecy I ever had is gone.’ Therefore, we play this game, pretending to be oblivious and overplaying the faux shock of learning the other’s history.

    What are the implications of this?’ As I mentioned earlier, character is dispositional, not situational.’ Experiences are only as important as the effect they have on our character.’ If I already have a good enough knowledge of your character, then how can I be at all shocked or disturbed to learn something about your past?’ I already know how the book ends.’ Everything that has ever shaped you has culminated in your current being.’ While tracing the path may be interesting, it is completely irrelevant.

    In the end, for many of us, the game is an important part of our defenses.’ It affords us our mythical sense of privacy.’ It allows us to experience a range of emotions that we don’t get to often experience (shock, surprise, rage), even if it is only in pretense.’ I don’t want to spoil the game for you- I just want to put this in writing to give you all a way out, should you seek it.

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