The dictionary defines this as the distance from the top or surface of something to its bottom OR complexity and profundity of thought. Common sense usage of this word also uses it as synonymous with its definition. That is, the depth of something can also refer to the farthest most point, the ultimate bottom level. There is the depth of a cube, a swimming pool, a thought or a team’s bench. You can have depth perception, in-depth conversations or research, depth of love/fear/betrayal/joy, depth of heart and depths of the sea. To plumb the depths of something is to investigate what is hidden from view.
I wish to use depth as a spatial reference to the ability to form relationships with others. If one is not capable of depth in interpersonal relationships, they then exemplify the opposite characteristics. These are shallow, competitive and un-empathetic [read ‘one way streets’]. Not being capable of depth is to live without impacting others. It is a self contained existence where everything is controlled and composite. No hair out of place and no book is crooked on the shelf. I would argue that to live such a life is detrimental to the human person because it denies a fundamental truth of human existence; that human life is inevitably full of imperfections and that oftentimes the harder you try to control your life, the more it swings out of control.
The search for perfection has been a topic of human revelation since the beginning of recorded history. The ancients sought the ‘perfection of human wisdom’; the medievals the Transcendentals (the True, the Good and the Beautiful) and the moderns the humanist transcendence of the limits of all previous human achievement. Having a biological preference for order has been the topic of technical discussion in psychology and natural science since Leonardo da Vinci’s time. It has been argued that both animals’ and humans’ use of the connection between complexity and symmetry and aesthetic appeal as a selection tool for beauty and health is a fundamental theory of the universe. The ever elusive, ‘theory of everything’ which physicists have spent decades searching for will incorporate an all-encompassing symmetry that explains the entire universe.¹
So we are faced here with a dilemma: on one hand, there is the fact that the human brain is hard-wired to seek out and prefer that which is perfect over the imperfect and on the other, the fact that nature itself moves in unexplainable imperfect ways that do not align with the generally agreed upon canon of perfection. We can now ask: why we are left with this contradiction? What, if anything, can we do about the fact that the brain might very well be hard-wired to seek out only that which is perfect and so much of life is imperfect?
Perhaps there are some theological discussions that could be had here about the problem of evil and the ‘general fallen state of man,’ but I digress. Most importantly for our purposes is the general attitude with which one needs to answer these questions (because all questions deserve to be answered, right?). The basic state of our situation is this: we seek perfection and rarely find it. This failure leads to confusion, frustration and in extreme cases, chronic depression. The reaction to this situation can be characterized as an experience. All experiences are mediated by our attitude towards the world at any one point in time and attitudes are determined by what we expect to happen. It stands to reason that if we wish to moderate the effects of negative experiences, we must reform our attitudes and expectations about the world.
Thus, as experience can show us: the reasonable expectation about a situation is that things will go wrong; making the reasonable attitude one of resignation and indifference. To show why these two things, which typically have negative associations, are now to be lauded as positive attributes is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, the combination of this expectation and attitude leads to an acceptance of the worst, most frustrating parts of human existence.
I have to embrace the imperfect crookedness of this world because if I denied it I would be denying a fundamental truth about this life. I can’t deny a truth just because it makes me uncomfortable or threatens the foundation that I have built for myself. I have to love the chipped cups and the off white walls. I have to appreciate the morning dew that soaks through my jeans when I sit on the grass. I have to embrace the bees who buzz by and the ants who use me as a freeway. I have to love every broken sidewalk and spilled cup of coffee because without them what would I be, what would I have left? What kind of person do those rejections make me? Who do they say that I am? This embrace brings acceptance in place of rejection; love instead of judgement.
¹I am also thinking here of the television series ‘Touch’, the Buddhist text the Prajnaparamita, and the ancient Greek impression that the entire purpose of the body of knowledge was to move the individual towards reading the minds of the gods and the perfection of nature. For more on the mechanistic earth see here.