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The Oliviers, the anchor riders, and the pier people

Years ago I heard an anecdote about Laurence Olivier: A journalist came to interview Olivier in his home, and was met at the door by Olivier’s friend. The friend gave the journalist a warning: to be sure he held the image he had of Olivier clearly in mind. “Whomever you expect to find,” he said. “that is who he will be.”

This story struck me as sad, and the problem as peculiarly apt to a great actor. (Of course, Meryl Streep—that other great actor of the twentieth century, and possibly the twenty-first—is the exact opposite, balanced and deeply self-aware, so obviously this loss of self is not required to act well.) Another theater soul, Nobel prize winner Luigi Pirandello, used his plays to demonstrate the interactive nature of human existence. Olivier probably related. For Pirandello, there was no “I” at the center of existence, only a series of masks worn in response to the behavior and opinions of others.

I’ve written before about the self being at the intersection of how others treat us and the choices we make, but now I’m thinking about how some people tend to fall more to one side or the other. Bart and I were talking about this, and I wanted to share his thoughts on the matter:

Some people (the Oliviers) only recognize their existence in others’ eyes and get washed out to sea and lost. Some people cling to the pier of the “I” and when the waves come, they are swamped. But the people who realize this interaction is going on face the storm. They know that the center moves, but remains the center. “They know you have to ride it out, at anchor.”

Note: credit for the title goes to Bart as well :–)

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