As a student of human nature, one of my favorite exercises is to try to divide people into two camps. For instance, I’ve managed to identify splits like abstainers vs. moderators and under-buyers vs. over-buyers.
Walking to the gym today, I found myself thinking about a passage written by critic John Ruskin:
The little pig was so comforting to me because he was wholly content to be a little pig; and Mr. Leslie Stephen is in a certain degree exemplary and comforting to me, because he is wholly content to be Mr. Leslie Stephen; while I am miserable because I am always wanting to be something else than I am.
This passage made me reflect about a way that my sister and I differ, and I think I identified a new set of oppositions: alchemists vs. leopards. Ruskin and I are alchemists. My sister is a leopard.
Alchemists seek ways to change or re-direct our fundamental natures; we’re dissatisfied with ourselves; we’re often tempted to behave, and make choices, that don’t comport with who we really are.
Leopards don’t try to change their spots. They know who they are, and they don’t worry about everything they aren’t.
The first and most important of my Twelve Personal Commandments is to Be Gretchen. This commandment is important for everyone—though people should substitute their own names!— but I suspect alchemists have a much tougher time keeping the commandment than leopards do. (I wish I could think of a tidier pair of symbols, but I haven’t come up with anything better. Ideas?)
I wish I could be more like my sister. Look, there I go again! Wishing I could change my nature