If I may be excused for doing so, I wish to offer a little philosophical diversion and an observation, if only to precipitate a thought or two. To begin, there are a number of common traits in the personalities I tend to write about. One of these is exemplified by the meaning of the word in the title of this article, unflappable, being the characteristic of remaining calm and focused when facing challenge or difficulty. Another is persistence, the quality of remaining true to a pursuit when obstacles or barriers arise. Persistence has any number of synonyms, all evoking subtle nuance in the qualities of the same general characteristic: tenacious, indomitable, tireless, resolute, assiduous. In the annals of fiction such traits are often expressed by the protagonists, for their personal growth or transformation over the course of the story is typically driven by the challenges faced.
Such is the case in life beyond the printed word. Life has its twists and turns and its ups and downs. But the implicit notion expressed in the practices of many cultures that challenge and difficulty are necessary to develop a worthwhile or sufficient character is unfounded. We merely need to look toward how we come into this world. The core of our personalities, and as the protagonists of our own life story— our fundamental characters, are already equipped to handle challenge in our own unique way. Whether challenge is faced or not, its nature, and to what degree, is a matter determined by the course of our lives.
There is, however, an important implicit assumption behind the notion challenge and difficulty are needed to build a character, that assumption being we come into the world somehow defective or deficient, and therefore we must be fixed or enhanced. This is a strange assumption, for acceptance of the notion would lead one to ask who is to do the fixing, and what is it precisely that needs to be fixed? And given each person is fundamentally unique, any formulaic approach is necessarily precluded. The fixing based on this assumption we grown-ups often give to the younger ones among us is the uncritical passing on of the mostly unconscious rules of belief and behavior than constitute our culture. These rules were given to us as children, when we possessed not the ability to either critically reflect upon them in the abstract, or have any experiential basis for comparison (unless having had significant exposure to another culture) to judge their usefulness or validity. Obviously, there exists much of value in culture, for it is within culture all the experience and knowledge gained over the generations about how to accommodate the common challenges of life are codified. We would not wish upon anyone the necessity to learn history again from the beginning and potentially repeat the mistakes of the past. Even so, many of the challenges of life are merely created by the rules of culture itself. The problems of today may be the result of yesterday’s solutions.
There are two additional traits I also tend to include in the protagonists of my stories, innocence and curiosity. An unfortunate result of learning the vast world of culture, whether through formal or informal means, is the great bastion of curiosity in the young mind is often lost. The world, at some point, may come to seem completely known. The limitless, and at times, awe inspiring realms of mystery and possibility, the twin drivers of imagination and invention, come to disappear. And herein lies the value of innocence. To be innocent in this sense is the ability to recognize the merely perceived limitations of the world implicitly or explicitly defined in the rules of one’s culture. Without these perceived limitations, curiosity at least has the opportunity to hold fast, and the creativity and invention of the young mind may remain for a lifetime.