A hundred years ago, Hermann Rorschach created his famous inkblot test to assess the personality of subjects. It offers therapists insights into how clients perceive their surroundings through abstract images. It can reveal aspects of cognition and affectivity because of patterns which subjects report to see in the images and even make calculated predictions about human behavior. An interesting feature of the test, I think, is that some people will consistently see the whole image while others consistently focus on small aspects within the design while dismissing the bigger picture.
It seems to me that many of us are like those who see details in images but miss the larger reality; we can’t see the forest for the trees. In my last post—on the topic of being compassionate rather than condemnatory—I mentioned two public figures that are about as opposite as two individuals can be, Pope Francis and former-president Donald Trump, and I noted that they are similarly transparent, which has brought criticism upon them. Some readers went nuts that I would suggest that Francis and Trump have anything at all in common and lambasted me for it. But the truth is, the two have many things in common: both are over 75, each hold (or held) one of the most powerful jobs on earth working for little or no salary, both are authors, each are descendants of European immigrants to The Americas, both are highly influential… Though I realize I’m stretching it with their commonalities, my point is that it is unreasonable to conclude that they cannot share the characteristic of transparency.
Though not a fan of Trump, I am fascinated by the hatred of him and what The Urban Dictionary calls Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS). It has gone to extremes when he cannot be mentioned in the same sentence as the pope. Hitler was evil. No logical thinking person would debate that reality. When young, he was enthralled with the ritual pomp and pageantry of the Catholic Church and, at one point, even expressed interest in becoming a priest. But that doesn’t mean that, by association, the church or priesthood is evil. Both have faults, but for other reasons—not because of Hitler. We might want to keep an eye on those who are attracted to priesthood because of the church’s pomp and ritual but to suggest that it is evil because Hitler was attracted to it is laughable. Most of us hold that the opposite is true: the ritual pageantry is grace-filled and glorious.
TDS reminds me of one of the Seinfeld episodes: Elaine and Jerry enter Poppy’s restaurant to sample his famous duck dinner. It’s a very crowded yet harmonious atmosphere with everyone enjoying their wonderful meal until Poppy, in conversation with the two, reveals his position on abortion. Other customers overhear and it starts numerous arguments at the various tables until the entire restaurant is rapidly evacuated by angry people fighting over their polarized positions. Jerry finds this amusing and seeks opportunities to clear out other places. Meanwhile, Elaine, after the bad luck of dating “losers” for over a decade, finally finds the perfect man and falls madly in love. She tells Jerry that she has finally found “the one” to which he said, “Oh, yeah—what’s his position on abortion?” Of course, when she finds out, she breaks off the budding romance, instantly and permanently.
Some readers will quickly entrench and say, “Abortion is no laughing matter” or “Hitler is nothing to joke about.” Others will chime in that neither is Trump’s vulgarity or divisive rhetoric or whatever has caused their TDS to manifest. Still others will complain that Biden’s shaming of citizens who are not vaccinated or his inconsistent stance on immigrants’ paths to citizenship or his incongruent positions as a politician who is Catholic are equally offensive. Many of us think that people half-way around the world who worship cows, while nearby humans suffer and babies starve to death, are deranged; yet they also remind us that we all have sacred cows, and we tend to be quickly offended when they get attacked. Seinfeld has been wildly successful because he creates laughter by making observations about human behavior that is somewhat deranged.
I am not suggesting that life is like a Rorschach inkblot, but I am convinced that too many of us focus on particular details that prevent us from seeing the whole picture. It can lead to deranged thinking, polarization, or even hatred. Though we all hold dearly to our sacred cows, they should not lead us to behavior that subtracts dignity from our human state. I have been privileged to be with people going through the dying process who keep both their sense of honor and sense of humor till the end. I think that’s the way we ought to want to be.