INTEGRATION & NEW BEGINNINGS
Great narratives of both fiction and non-fiction capture us because of their dynamic characters: They fight, they struggle, they change shape. They learn things, and they grow. Scout Finch, Maya Angelou, Ebeneezer Scrooge, Malcolm X, Siddhartha Guatama, Gru, and two on whose inspiration I have leaned heavily over the last few years: Steven Universe and Moana.
We all recognize this arc, even if we don’t know how to articulate it. But we feel it. It is the arc of integration – setting out to break the spell of fear, doing the thing you were terribly scared to do, failing at least once, giving up at least once, but not stopping and becoming better for all of it. This is the work of integrating fears – big ones, that change our whole perception of ourselves.
Static characters don’t really evolve… they are static. When they do evolve, they become dynamic. Many children’s stories are full of flat, static characters, because they are simple and easy to understand – Captain Hook is flat, and static, as is Peter Pan. They are meant only to reinforce each other, to exist in a binary together. The story is about the battle between them. There are a lot of “classic” stories that exist in these types of universes, like Star Wars, and to a degree, Harry Potter. The point of the story is the battle between poles. There must be a winner, and a loser, and it must be that way ad nauseum. Without this binary, they would be no story in these types of static Universes.
Popular culture is potentially starting to come around to dynamism, even in traditional static Universes. I was just catching up on Pop Culture Happy Hour, and was reading that the new Batman film potentially raises some interesting questions inside the traditional superhero binary. For this example of contrasting a static character with a dynamic one, we're going to take The Batman and The Grinch together. Batman is a relatively static character. Now, he isn’t a flat character – he is fighting an internal battle, kind of like Harry Potter, which makes him round and thus more interesting than some of the static-but-flat characters (like Superman, or Captain Hook) who don’t have this internal battle. He is definitely more relatable, but he still isn’t dynamic. He’s couched in the same old storyline over and over: The Universe exists solely to allow him to continue to prove his individual power, i.e., to remain static. The Batman Fights, The Batman Wins, The Batman Broods, forever and ever. The full arc will never not look like that.
We are contrasting that with The Grinch, who is a dynamic character. He starts out believing he lives in a static universe, of good and evil. He, of course, very happy to be evil because he believes he has figured out how to dupe the dopes in Whoville, take their cheer, and make them miserable. But of course, in the middle of that plan, Christmas morning dawns on him laboring a giant bag of purloined presents up the hill and he hears the Whos singing below him. In that moment, he realizes he can’t take from them what they have; and that changes him. He moves from understanding the world in a static way (me vs. you, winners-and-losers) to a dynamic way (collectives, collaborations, non-zero-sums). He has an insight, he allows his ego to integrate, and his heart grows, which takes a lot more courage than violence. He realizes his misunderstanding (and thus how grave his mistake) and heads back down to the town. And of course, as in all good Holiday stories, the village takes him in, and allows him to sit at the head of table as their honored guest.
Now, obviously these stories are fantasies each in their own way. Good and Evil do not exist in the same way they are portrayed in the movies. The majority of the world is not stark black and white. Static characters and universes are fun, but they can make us think the world is static, and worse, that people are static, when that is never, ever the case. Many of us believe we are static because we are led to think we live in a world that is. Many quarter- or mid-life crises happen around this very dissonance – the contrast between our actual dynamic universe, and the popular idea that we live in a static one. Evolving, and integrating, allows us to see beyond that small understanding into a much more expansive paradigm.
And, of course, here in the real world, people do care when you steal their stuff, even if you bring it back, and even if their stuff isn’t really the point. Many of them would not immediately invite you to cut the roast beast, which is an absolutely healthy choice. Yes, changes-of-heart happen in an instant, but it still takes a long time to integrate that insight into the real world. Changes-of-heart are peaks, and we know we don't live on peaks forever. The work gets a lot harder as you descend. And on the flipside, saying sorry, or having a change-of-heart doesn’t cut you loose from acknowledging the responsibility you have for the damage you caused while your heart was three sizes too small. This misunderstanding leaves out the beautiful transformative stage called repair, and repair is really what makes or breaks relationships of all kinds. This is what actually gets us to a heartfelt invitation to cut the roast beast - and it takes time, forgiveness, and accountability.
These nuances mean all the difference to our expectations here in the reality of reality.
Finally, the trouble is, the hollow fantasy has it backwards. The change-of-heart is the first step, not the last. And in a dynamic universe, there’s no telling what could happen from there. We could easily imagine The Grinch contracting again right after he expanded…the next day he might have a total vulnerability hangover because that is what happens when we open up and we're not used to doing it. In real life, The Grinch would definitely struggle with learning about love, connection and togetherness. He would have to continue to choose practice, choose integration, choose openness on a daily basis. Some days he would get there, and others he wouldn't. The Whos would also be doing work - some days some of them would have open hearts to The Grinch, and some days some of them wouldn't. This is the reality of reality. There isn’t a real ending, and there isn’t a real center. This can sound heavy, but it doesn't have to be. Our Universe a never-ending, center-less process that continues to get better, sweeter, and easier the less we resist it. Only humans know how to resist the dynamic fabric of this life. When we can learn to stop resisting the dynamism, we are give ourselves the greatest gift there is: A life that has more ease, peace and flow.