Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Applicable Significance of *Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde*

One thing I need to start reminding myself more of on a daily basis is the true metaphorical meaning of Steven Louis' tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, for it surely applies well to my life right now, though not in the good vs evil way. Though, this is worth explaining in perhaps unanticipated ways.

I think the deeper meaning of this story is at large either too unknown or unacknowledged in today's culture, particularly because people may not have heard of the story from the author's own work. It gets reinterpreted across a vast array of mediums from plays to children's picture books, and some authors even rewrite the story in totality in their own words, further obfuscating its meaning as people may not even remember this story even had an originator. Louis' original writing is well-worth the read for its better understanding of human nature and how it ought to apply to daily living, especially since so many retelling of the story are frankly bastardized.

By and large, most understandings of the story either portray Dr. Jekyll as someone who split himself into good and evil personas, or else had some monster become born out of the potion he drank, but the former is inaccurate and the latter is false. Really, Dr. Jekyll was a man who had irrational desires, and by striving to satisfy those irrational desires without sacrificing his virtues and the good things he's earned, such as his prestige as a doctor or the respect of peers, he does end up sacrificing all that and literally destroying himself in the end.

He concocted that wonder potion because he wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He enjoyed his life as a respectable doctor, but still had within him a set of unhealthy whims he wanted to act upon but restrained himself from in order to maintain his virtue, and he thought that he could satisfy himself totally by dividing his nature into two personas.

The potion's real purpose was to segregate his character qualities and dump all his vice temptations, unhealthy emotions, and other dark things into one person, Mr. Hyde. He would drink this potion and transform into Mr. Hyde so that he could indulge in his animalistic side without people knowing it was actually Dr. Jekyll, thereby maintaining his reputation. As Hyde, he would drink, be rude, be gluttonous, and whatever else he’d desire at the range of the moment.

The murder that Mr. Hyde ends up committing was not out of pleasure, but out of uncontrolled anger. As Jekyll allowed himself more Mr. Hyde transformations, Hyde’s nature in Jekyll became stronger – just as habits become stronger through repetition, and all his temptations grew stronger along with his vices. At first the anger may have just been a mild irritation, but by allowing himself to feed it and feed it and feed it, it intensified enough that he desired and actually committed murder. If I recall right, even Mr. Hyde himself was horrified at the murder committed while in that transformed state, for he recognized how his nature was shifting and getting worse.

We all know the famous end. From then on, Dr. Jekyll promised never to drink the potion again, in other words to never so irrationally indulge in his sordid whims again, and found he would transform into Hyde without the potion. This reflects how a person may be horrified at the results of his vices, such as drinking to excess or abusing a significant other, and resolve not to do it again only to find the habit grew so strong that it practically initiates itself without his will.

Dr. Jekyll breaks away from his associates to control himself, only to find himself caving in over and over to the feeding of attention to Mr. Hyde, which ends up in him dying from the struggle, the corpse laying down on the floor being Mr. Hyde.

The Mr. Hyde here does not merely reflect plain evil, but of separate elements that may compose a person's viceful side: Rude manners, acting on whims, stewing in negative emotions, excess in food and drink, and so forth. At first, Mr. Hyde is simply an extremely unlikable character, having the worst manners. The display of Jekyll growing worse over time; in Mr. Hyde intensifying in his bad nature, becoming more vicious, transforming without Jekyll's will, and getting worse in his practices; represents how we ourselves or anyone we know will have the totality of their habits shift in a certain direction as they feed a certain negative subset repeatedly, causing them to grow stronger and take over the spectrum over time. Dr. Jekyll's death as Mr. Hyde is representative of how anyone could ruin themselves by allowing their lesser side to continue surviving, giving it the ability to gradually take over.

Mr. Hyde wasn't simply evil or a foreign monster, he was Dr. Jekyll’s unhealthy and irrational temptations. Indulgence led to habituation, and habituation led to a near-total change in Jekyll actual character. By refusing to stop early on, he had to struggle fiercely to control himself, much like a person with a fierce habit will have to struggle from initiating it, and in his case he stopped too late: Mr. Hyde became his actual and permanent nature.

In my case, I worry about my own version of Hyde, whom I may be feeding in nuanced ways I haven't brought myself to awareness of. If we liken Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to simply a division between good habits and bad habits, each of their own moral status, then we all, in a way, have a Jekyll and Hyde in us, and we ought to be wary about which side we feed the most attention, for the one with the lion's share shall dominate one's ultimate nature.

Thinking like this can shed light on the small ways a person can make these kinds of transformations and lose himself. The one person I knew who best represented this kind of split was an old coworker I had some years ago at a previous job in a pizza place.

When I first started working, he was great. He was friendly, authentically pleasant to work with, and very efficient, effective, and helpful. He was certainly a part of the overall camaraderie in the workforce. However, he had some troubles in his life such as bearing an illegitimate child, and the ways these issues steeped into his emotions gradually changed who he was as a person.

First, he started out by having a rather unpleasant way of talking. He'd talk behind coworkers' backs about his bitterness and disapproval of their work ethic, and be envious of those with better things, citing his low pay and position in the company.

He gave those thoughts more attention, and it resulted in more behavior arising from it. It came to things such as intentionally making a mess at other people's work stations and maliciously ruining supplies, tossing objects, disabling the radio so nobody could listen to it, and even storming off of shifts before he was finished. It became increasingly consistent of him to act this way, and he pulled away from the network of friends to withdraw into himself  The general opinion of him grew sour, he became less valued, and was possibly fired.

He became as a Mr. Hyde, someone who could be enjoyable to work with and who would support you, but by repeatedly giving attention to thoughts about how unhappy he was with life, he entered a struggle, and eventually a full and long-term Hyde transformation, where no one liked him and he was a bane of the workforce.

Looking at my own hands, I, too, have fed the Hyde in me too much. It may not have resulted in actually evil behaviors or harms to other, but has brought about the major stresses, frustrations, and setbacks I see in life, because I didn't know well enough how to protect the Dr. Jekyll I have obtained before. Mr. Hyde is always so tempting, because the particular thoughts that feed his nature, such as envy towards others or repeating unhappy memories, always have that emotional element that whispers in your ear how it would be “good” and “practical” to give into those temptations, which can keep us going in circles for years, or even a lifetime.

As I work to change myself, the specific thing I need to keep in mind is that if I make an excuse to indulge in an unhealthy vice one more time, then in reality I've made an excuse to feed Mr. Hyde one more time. Turning around and looking behind me, it's clear to see there's a great multitude of footprints behind me, all the “just once more” excuses that summarize into the grand number of steps to date, this far of a distance down the undesirable path.

Yet, there's a pleasant hope. The more successful one is in habit-change, in maintaining the Dr. Jekyll, the more things take care of themselves. For instance, in originally changing my diet, it was extremely hard to resist the temptations of my old eating ways, for the old foods still evoked strong taste memories and temptation. Yet, strangely, in success it was literally effortless. In looking at wheat bread now, it's easy to keep the jaws closed towards it since its pleasant memories are overridden with the new foods I enjoy now, especially since I can, in a craving and temptation-free state, soberly acknowledge all the health problems and misery this bread caused me before. In fact, I would literally have to push through emotional resistance to eat that bread, for Dr. Jekyll's best features dominate the emotional spectrum in this realm.

When you can proudly claim a Dr. Jekyll-like nature in diet, exercise, productivity, or whathaveyou, it's utterly easy to maintain the momentum. You just have to avoid the follies – again, utterly easy in that state – and be self-aware when you may be unknowingly getting off track.

I don't think achieving one's goals, in general, is really all that hard. I think one of the hardest things in the world is putting oneself in a success-making mode, where one's habits and inclinations point towards one's self-progress; it's combating one's fears and bad habits that are the essence of the difficulty. Patience, perseverance, willpower, and so forth all flow naturally upon one's triumph. All that's left is to protect that momentum.

I've got to keep telling myself: No, it's not okay to take “just one more step” towards Mr. Hyde, to feel better in the moment. I can’t have my cake and eat it too; I can’t drink the potion and keep the best of myself.

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