The Wrong Person

Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.
— Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

The opening line to Ms. Tyler's 15th novel is a sentence that could be true of many people who might stop to ponder and reflect on their lives with an unwavering and honest eye. The feeling of not being quite oneself, or of not being the person whom one feels one actually is, can be a disheartening, even frightening, realization, and can lead some to seek counselling and therapy.

Life presents all of us with choices at every turn - most people quite blithely navigate these with careful thought. A single day can be filled with myriad options requiring decisions - from minor things like deciding what to eat, to more important ones like wondering when to propose, or whether an investment decision seems sound. What often escapes attention is the decision on what conversations we have, when is a good time to have them, and what words we choose to use or avoid. Many of the most difficult and intractable situations in life arise from conflict with others - a message misinterpreted, a gesture misunderstood, a missed opportunity to speak up - and yet people often converse with little careful awareness in the moment, only realizing with hindsight what could have, might have, would have, should have. And it is the accumulation of these kinds of misunderstandings that eventually lead people to places in life where they discover they have somehow turned out 'wrong', or not as they wanted or expected to be.

Who we are when we relate to others can be the source of much joy and love, as well as much sorrow and pain. It might seem inconsequential, but every encounter with another human being, however brief or seemingly insignificant, has the potential to affect us in profound and long-lasting ways. The internet is full of memes highlighting glowing examples of humanity and warmth, of kindness unexpected and generosity undeserved; it is also filled with viral posts calling out heedless thoughtlessness, casual cruelty and intolerable selfishness. Of course, the same person is equally capable of being the source of great comfort and hurt - but at some point, one tends toward one over the other, and before they are consciously aware of it, they've somehow 'turned into the wrong person'.

This is a fact of modern life and a topic I might return to time and again - but for now, perhaps it is sufficient to ask ourselves if we are on the path to becoming the 'right' person, the person we want to be.