People as Kaleidoscopes

At the level of everyday interaction, when in the immediate presence of another, you are observing the absolute smallest fraction of who that person is and ever will be.

Riding my first bus while in kindergarten, I used to watch other children trickle in amid the various stops, amble down the aisle, eye open seats. For some reason, when gazing their direction, I wouldn’t see their present faces, but rather some forecast of future ones. Their adult faces gleamed from the very folds and contours of their youthful ones, a sort of facial foreshadowing.

This visual phenomenon seems peculiar to my extreme youth, and has all but extinguished. It still happens on occasion, but the romantic allure it once prompted died with my youth. To actually have seen—not merely supposed—what someone would look like in the future is something I’m not likely to fully understand, yet the experience likely contributed to blossoming of the thesis at hand.

When in the presence of another person, it seems natural—and to an extent necessary—to assume that person exists as a stagnant, finished portrait, single and bounded in that moment of time. “There they are,” it could be said; “I can talk to them, touch them, see them.” The person exists solely in that moment, incarnate, identifiable.

Analogous to how light is a wave but can also be viewed as a particle, in what I’ll term the Spectrum of Being, an individual actually exists as past and future, and in a ‘particular’ instance can only be tasted. This individual’s existence is contingent upon prior experiences, limited by genes and physiological boundaries, and pregnant with possibilities.

That is to say, when encountering another person, we behold but a snapshot of a multifaceted creature with a past on the way to who they are to be.

No doubt caregivers have some sense of this when keeping the long term character of children in mind as they seek to inculcate certain behavior: the child is no child forever, but a potential adult.

None of this is likely to shock anyone, but methinks intentional, conscious awareness of certain phenomena can not only broaden our understanding of another, but actually influence the way we interact.

Concerning their past, this means we might sympathize with displeasurable behavior or beliefs contrary to our own by understanding them in light of the experiences that molded them.

In the present, the individual transcends the moment in kaleidoscopic splendor.

Looking forward, a gesture, a “word fitly spoken,” a moment echoes through time when recalled in the mind.

But people as kaleidoscopes on a Spectrum of Being can prove distressful too.

I used to work with a guy, Josh, to whom I once shamefully admitted to having drunk a bottle of wine by myself some prior evening. He replied, “There is nothing wrong with drinking a bottle of wine by yourself.” But I couldn’t bring myself to agree because I assumed there was some shame in it.

Josh used to tell me stories of his many sexual escapades, after which I once described him as “wanton,” a.k.a. sinful, or bad. He was visibly offended, and I wished I could take it back.

Now, having aged further from twenty one, a quiet night and a bottle of wine and a woman or two are no longer forgoing events to be deplored; indeed the reader will doubtless agree and perhaps question the reasons for my initial apprehension. But he was a few years older and I had assumed the differences were permanent character ones. I’ll never be able to take back the damage done to his psyche by calling him wanton, and I’ll have been deprived of many a night of pleasant inebriation.

My friend and I had more in common than I had supposed; I just hadn’t reached the moment in time where such beliefs would bloom. Now we rarely interact, and I’ve left something of a stain on his conscience and mine. If I had seen him (and myself) as kaleidoscopic, I might have held my tongue, had more fun, and not hurt someone.

The ESV of Ecclesiastes 11:6 states, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” I like to use this as a corollary to people as kaleidoscopes: interact with another while keeping in mind their future self might need or cherish the experience when it’s more useful or agreeable.

Even if we meet someone only once, we know not whether, when, or in what form the effect will blossom. We must understand ourselves in this light too. We are much, much more than the now, and are as much the agent and recipient of this phenomenon.

If no man is an island and life is a gift, as logic will allow, not every presence is a present unwrapped in the now.


This post may be further understood in light of my running metaphysico-ontological posts, for example Tracing our Selves or Philosophy of Selfies.

[Having studied phenomenology and existentialism, no doubt my thoughts have here been influenced by a host of former thinkers, not least of whom includes Martin Heidegger in his work Being and Time. Unreferenced similarities must be incidental to the nature of the subject matter, as I take every effort to afford credit where due. The forty-some page excerpt of Being and Time I’ve read appears to focus on the acceptance of the inescapability of death as a necessary function and understanding of being. Were I to craft a lengthier ontology, my Spectrum of Being would extend beyond this life in either direction, thus any uncredited influence from Heidegger’s work would at best remain tangential to and at worst detract from mine own philosophy.]