About fourteen years ago, I had a ten hour layover in Amsterdam and if I had not been particularly destitute after several weeks at a United Youth Corps project in Ghana, I would have gone to the Anne Frank House. Instead, I stayed in the airport and unsuccessfully tried to sleep. In recently reading a novel that discussed that same tourist spot , I was struck by something that Otto Frank is reported as saying about his daughter. Apparently, despite knowing her and being a good father, and being around her for a couple of very stressful years in very close quarters, it was only through reading (and redacting) her journal entry that Otto realized the deep and rich emotional life that his daughter had. I suppose the same might be true for me, in that people probably have to read what I write to understand my own emotional life in context given my own habits of restraint. Still, it seems sad that a man would have to find out about his late daughter’s deep heart by reading her private musings.
This appears, though, to be a common issue. For whatever reason, the depth of people tends to lie far beneath the radar of most people. There are some people who use this to their advantage. There is, for example, a certain type of woman who is blessed with good looks and extreme ambition who goes out of her way to avoid showing intellectual and emotional depth, the better to be underestimated by others, which can be taken advantage of. I don’t wish to look down on other people, though, nor do I wish to underestimate them. I’d like to know the true measure, at least, of what is going on inside the hearts and minds of those I know, at least to enough extent to map the general terrain and to know what steps to respond to treat them thoughtfully and with understanding. Likewise, I don’t want people to assume that because I am a restrained person that I am someone who lacks deep feeling, and I would generally prefer others to be at least somewhat sensitive and thoughtful about that part of life, although it seldom seems to be the case.
Why is it that we seldom recognize the surprising depth of still waters? I think we tend to trust our eyes too much and not verify enough of what they tell us. If we see someone on the outside who looks friendly and bubbly, and does not go out of his or her way to speak about subjects at depth, or to talk about his or her own emotional life, we tend not to assume any sort of intellectual or emotional depth. This is often very untrue–practically everyone I have ever spent a lot of time around has shown me a great deal of emotional and mental depth, which has led me to greater respect them as people because I have seen at least a glimpse of who they are under the mask and respected them all the more for it, even if I did not always like what I saw. It is a shame that we are content to judge on mere appearances, and so casually dismiss people on superficial and mistaken judgments without ever having taken the time to see what makes them tick and to hope that their lives fulfill the destiny and purpose that God has set out by giving them the qualities that He has.
What are we supposed to do? We can react in a combination of a few ways to this reality. One, we can go into interactions with others in the expectation that there is more depth than we see. Simply mistrusting our initial and superficial judgments may at least allow us to give others the benefit of the doubt before we find out the sort of depth that lies in others. Simply granting that others have more than meets the eye will encourage us, when we get to know other people better by reading their thoughts, or by spending time with them and hearing and seeing them face to face, to have more understanding with where others come from. Given the fact that we can use all the encouragement to be understanding and gracious in our treatment and thoughts of others, this is something we can all bear to do, especially when we consider that it will allow us to treat others with respect and at least potentially help make the world around us at least a little bit better, and help us to be better people in it.