Transparent Characters

Most characters in movies, television, and theater are relatively easy for audiences to read.  Actors learn to use their voice tone, gaze direction, body motions, etc. to clearly telegraph their characters’ feelings and perspective. But in the stories that are told, the characters themselves usually do not understand each other, or themselves, quite so well.   

For example, audiences enjoy seeing one character lie to another; the audience gets many clues that what is said is a lie, but the duped character just doesn’t notice them.  Similarly, characters often have large character flaws easily visible to the audience, such as arrogance or selfishness, but those characters just don’t see their own flaws.   

These acting tricks let audiences enjoy a sense of inside access, of being able to see more into the story’s world than they can usually see in their ordinary world.  But I fear prolonged exposure to such acting tempts us to overconfidence about how well we can read those around us.  We feel we can read ourselves well and read others better than they can read us.  And when we disagree, we think we can usually spot the flaw in their thinking, a flaw they have not even considered. 

Now I do think humans try to simplify themselves in order to be understood, and thereby trusted, by others.  It is hard to trust folks whose actions you can’t at least roughly predict.  But Beware: life is not a movie, and most people can’t actually read themselves and others nearly as well as they think they can. 

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