The Story of Complex People: Part II. Read Part I here.


Who can tell the truth about a person? An autobiography gives access to someone’s psyche and thought processes, but is there anyone who thinks unfavorably about himself and would put his own life story in writing? Biographies have the advantage of a third person’s distance to the main subject. But then again, the author’s biases and motives add another layer to the original story. Besides, rarely does anyone write a biography about someone they don’t like or admire. Thus before anything is ever written, the author is susceptible to ‘partial blindness’, especially to weaknesses, faults, and embarrassing things that would reduce the value of the book or mar the perception of the said person.

Biographies and memoirs were not a big part of my reading list, until recently. While this genre is indisputably valuable, I have to remind myself that these people, whose lives are being told, are still human beings. Sometimes authors are capable of lauding a person so much such that the admired person appears somewhat like a demi-god, having an existence a little higher than normal people. Virtues are emphasized, but faults are downplayed or omitted, resulting in a picture of someone who is a little more perfect than the rest of us. But even these extraordinary people are subject to the tension between their inner heroes and villains.

I wonder what the contrast would be if, for example, two biographies were written on a person, one by an admirer and another by an enemy. Perhaps two very different personas would appear, each partially true. The admirer would likely be blind to the person’s faults, and the enemy to the person’s strengths. In contrast, the enemy would likely tell more truth about the person’s inconsistencies and impure motives, and the admirer the truth about the virtues. The real person is probably somewhere in between or a composite of these things.

The question then remains, who can tell the truth about a person? Is there anyone of us who can know and express the full reality of another human being, or even the reality about ourselves?

To be continued…

Read continuation here: Part III.