(This is a brief selection from A Leopard Can’t Change its Spots, and Other Lies We’re Told).
“Familiarity breeds contempt”. Where did THAT one come from?! As if getting to know someone makes you dislike them? Sure that can happen, but is that the norm? And is it powerful enough to become a teaching phrase? I don’t think it’s quite as profound as those who use it believe it to be. But where did it come from?
“Fish and visitors stink in three days” is found within the pages of Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. But those who remember credit somebody else with the coining of this quip–16th century creative writer John Lyly. In his most famous work, Euphues – the Anatomy of Wit, Lyly joked that “fish and guests in three days are stale.” My question remains whether the title phrase of this section is a twisted version of Lyly’s wit, passed down and manipulated from one generation to the next. How has this teaching become so ingrained in our culture? And why?
Like many of the manipulations within this book, words have become tools of control. And words such as these warn us against one, two, or even all three of the following elements, which I call the Three Connections. If familiarity breeds contempt, then we believe it best to avoid getting to know others. We also worry that we shouldn’t ever let anyone get to know us. And, above all, never ever become too familiar with yourself. What a lonely and meaningless existence! Why, then, are we here?
- Getting to know somebody. Familiarity breeds contempt is sometimes meant to temper a new relationship. Think about a budding romantic interest. Oftentimes new or would-be lovers are driven by desire. But sensible friends will encourage these infatuated ones with wisdom to resist, and play hard to get. Parents certainly will use this manipulation in order to restrict the amount of time young lovers spend together. But what does this tell us about commitment and long term relationships? When you really stop to think about it, we are told “nobody stays together anymore”. It is a lament, and we see divorce rates rising and rampant cohabitation. Should this, then be the norm? Why not? My question is: does familiarity really breed contempt? Or is this just another lie we are told, which really only serves to sabotage the joy in loving marriages. Why would you want to grow old with someone you dislike? Could this ingrained idiom be serving as yet another self fulfilling prophecy? It is true only because we believe it to be.
2. Letting somebody get to know you. Don’t let your guard down. Trust needs to be earned. Think with your head and not with your heart. Aren’t those phrases each a part of this symphony of warnings against emotional intimacy? Yet it is most definitely a human yearning–to be known by another. Why then, do we continue to want something that is so bad for us? Or, instead, is the concept of self-isolation indeed harmful to our fragile human psyche? I believe so.
3. Knowing yourself. Here’s where we come full circle–what goes around comes around. Where do we draw the line? Have I gone too far? But bear with me for a few moments. Socrates and other Greek philosophers are renowned for the discovery that self awareness is critically important– “know thyself”. Hundreds of personal development professionals, life and career coaches, and therapists tout the premise of self awareness as the first step to any life improvement process. Self awareness is a journey into self, and all of the questions, discoveries, and synchronicities that go along with such a quest. My facetious question is whether we actually do begin to hold ourselves in contempt as we begin to know ourselves better. And the answer, in many cases, may actually be yes! Oh no! Then it’s true!? But wait! I ask you now to look deeper, beneath the surface of who each of us appears to be, and into the fascinating abyss of who we actually are! Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation“. Self actualization lies at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. Great philosophers, including Socrates, encourage us to lift the veils between our physical selves and our spiritual selves.
Is there something there, within our souls, within the essence of our true selves? And is this something that is infinitely worthy of love and adoration–from our friends and family as well as from within? Thus the odyssey of familiarity with self then reveals to us the truth of why we exist. Some philosophers say that mystical experiences are real, and that we experience them because a part of our unconscious is seeking to comprehend our purposes, our true souls, and God. The deeper we go into who we are, the closer we get to this gnosis, which may very well be our truth in pure form.
Some say true love, and twin flame unions lead us to know and understand ourselves better. The partners we choose serve to be reflections of what we have not yet discovered about ourselves. Relationships in conflict are said to be mirrors of our own shadow material. These theories take us all the way into soul discovery–our own and those of others. As mentioned, discovery of our soul, remembrance of our purpose, and connection to a divine creator are all elements toward enlightenment. Learning what it truly means to be human is liberating and joyful. Separation is painful, and unnatural. “Familiarity breeds contempt” goes against all of my sensibilities, as the underlying message is isolationism. Upon examination, this lie can be categorized as evil. What else, then are we missing?
What greater irony exists than satire turned into a weapon? Humans, whether intentionally or not, seize upon a concept and mindlessly make it viral. In the age of fake news and internet sharing, I wonder: will this corrupt practice worsen, and continue its destructive course? Will harmful missives continue to negatively impact an entire world, for generations?
So, I have taken a silly little euphemism and turned it into a sinister and nefarious deceit, haven’t I? Some ask me: “where do you come up with this stuff”? You don’t want to know.