A Circle Can’t Fit Where A Square Should Be

As human beings, one of the qualities that defines us is our love of simplicity.  It is, for example, a terrible cliche that is often visited upon readers and listeners that we speak of square pegs and round holes and of other similar issues.  To be sure, both circles and squares are extremely simple shapes, and it little wonder that we should wish to use these to convey the fact that it is difficult to fit square pegs into round holes, not least because it is mathematically impossible to square a circle, something that took a long time to rigorously prove, it should be noted [1].  Yet even though speaking of ourselves as circles and squares is easy enough, is it a fair sort of comparison to make?  Is there something that is lost by this simplification in terms of our own understanding of how it is that we fit with others and with the world around us, or is the simplification only a minor one and of no particular harm?

When this cliche is used, it is often used in the sense that is sung by the early 1990’s rock band Extreme, when they sang their song “Hole Hearted” that claimed that there was a hole in the narrator’s heart that could only be filled by his estranged beloved.  Anyone who hears this sort of comment is likely to discount at least some of the truth value that is meant by it in order to recognize that this is not quite true, and at worst not true at all.  The reason for this is that our fit with other people is seldom exact and precise, but rather requires some work on our part and the part of others.  This is not a bad thing, that our fitting with others requires work.  After all, we are complicated beings, and our complications require that we do work if we want to get along with other people.  Our willingness to undertake this labor is a demonstration of the sincerity of our professions of friendliness, and even if it is work there is often a sense of joy about spending time with other people and being close to other people even if we are imperfect fits for those around us.

We ought not to be upset about this sort of imperfection, for it is not something that ought to surprise us at all.  The more richly individual we are as people, the more we know ourselves and what we like and dislike, what inspires us and what bothers us, the less perfect our fit will be with others, but the more flexible we will be in toning down those elements within ourselves that would fit badly with others, and in communicating what part of the personality of others will make a particularly bad fit with us.  The trade-off of being more richly complicated in our self-expression but also more understanding and gracious and better equipped to deal with others is one that will likely work in our favor as we grow in spiritual and emotional maturity.  Yet we should recognize that some effort at fitting is required, something that many of us pay little attention to until and unless things are going badly or a particularly serious line is crossed, and that is not the best time to engage in fitting with other people we care about but find ourselves frustrated with at the same time.

Perhaps instead of thinking in terms of circles and squares, we would do better to think of protein structure.  As someone who is fairly complicated by nature [2], the layered nature of protein structure is personally appealing, and it happens to be something I have been familiar with since my days as an IB student in high school, where I was responsible for doing some research on protein structure as part of my studies of chemistry.  The primary structure of proteins relates to the order of their amino acids, and this layer is easy to understand if one simply lists the units that go into the protein in order.  The second layer consists of the structures that are formed by the hydrogen bonds from the regional areas of the protein, usually in alpha helixes or beta sheets, which have a certain characteristic form.  The third layer of structure consists of the folding of the protein that results from areas of the protein that are water-loving and others that avoid water, which twists the protein into a shape where those amino acids that favor water rest on the outside.  The quarternary layer of protein structure consists of the complex three-dimensional form of the protein as it actually exists.  We are more like proteins than we are like circles and squares, not least in the fact that we have more than merely two dimensions and that we have structures that are shaped by what we long for and what we run from, what we enjoy and what makes us look for a way to escape.  Either way, though, I suppose the point is the same–there are some situations where we shine, and others that feel immensely awkward and uncomfortable, some people we click with and others we do not, and at other times our chemistry is more complicated, if no more satisfying to anyone involved.

[1] See, for example:


[2] See, for example:







About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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One Response to A Circle Can’t Fit Where A Square Should Be

  1. Pingback: A Penny For Your Thoughts | Edge Induced Cohesion

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