On Contrast

When it comes to pixels, I’m a bit OCD. Case in point: when I switch wallpapers on my desktop PC (which I often do), I switch the wallpaper on my laptop and phone to the same image. It’s an exercise in consistency. There’s something comforting in seeing the same image across all devices, something comfortable in weaving all three platforms together by a common thread.

The other day, for no apparent reason, I changed that. I selected a wallpaper for each device, giving each its own personality. I realized at once how much easier it was to select an image for each platform. Whereas before I needed to select a wallpaper that would display the proper contrast with each of the three menu bars, widgets, etc., I was now free to select an image based on the visuals of each individual device, making the process that much simpler, the results that much more striking. Each device assumed its very own identity.

I reflected on that for a bit.

I began to think of my relationships. Friends, parents, colleagues, children. How often had I applied the same approach to the people in my life? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it to be true: I was attaching a uniform image to each person in my life, depriving them of their own personality.

On deeper reflection, it became clear that the image that I was transposing onto my loved ones was me.

I have a dear friend who’s overly analytical, mostly on a micro level. She likes to analyze people, situations. I can also be overly analytical, but usually on a macro level- ideas, cultures. So many discussions arise between us in which I silently wished that she would see things from my perspective.

Look at the bigger picture here!

When I think about it, though, it’s precisely this contrast in thinking that makes our discussions so fruitful, so engaging.

My daughter is many, many parts me. Because of that, it’s easy to relate to a large part of her nature, the things that she encounters, and the way she approaches life.

She’s also, in large part, her mother. These portions of her are largely alien to me. I’ve no idea what she’s thinking, how to get through to her, or what advice to give when I see her mother coming through. It’s unnerving.

And yet it’s precisely this dichotomy that makes her who she is. It creates a wondrous being, full of surprises and unexpected gifts.

If only everyone could be more like me.

I’d never thought about whether or not I thrust my own personality onto others. Once I did think about it, I was a bit alarmed at the frequency with which I do so.

I will never know what it’s like to write like David Foster Wallace, with such paranoia and an almost unthinkable attention to seemingly trivial detail. Reading Wallace is that most exquisite of gifts- to travel into the mind of another human being and observe the inner workings, the quirks, the brilliance, the life inside. Imagine, then, what I would miss if I simply lamented the fact that he doesn’t write more like I think.

The contrast is precisely the thing that the value derived depends on.

We are unique creatures. For all our childhoods, this simple fact is reiterated over and over to us: you are special. Somewhere at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood, we forget that fact, or, even if we are lucky enough to consciously recall it, we forget to apply it to the world around us. We look at others and hope, wish, and pray that they could be more like us. See things my way. Do the things I would do. Each of us, though, need our own background, our own contrast. It is the contrast that gives us our shape.

The world is nothing if not a puzzle, and we are simply pieces. A puzzle requires pieces of many different shapes to form a coherent whole. That is precisely why your circle of friends feels so complete when you are all together, why your family feels less total when someone is missing, why you, yourself, feel incomplete without your significant other, your adjacent piece.

Embrace the contrast. The world would not be whole without it.