Friday, January 14, 2005

Opposites Attract

I always believed that people bond together when they find something in common, whether it's something they like or suffering from the same adversity. Yet when I look around and judging from my own behavior, I also noticed that opposites do attract each other. If I believe in the saying "birds of the same feather flock together", how do I defend "opposites attract", and don't they contradict each other?

I don't think I need to present evidence showing how opposites attract each other. But I do think it's important to understand why they occur. To me, the most common reason is obtaining something you yourself don't personally have: it's the ugly guy who has a beautiful girlfriend, the poor man who has a rich friend, or the socially-inept person who has a socialite significant other. In other words, it's proving to yourself and to the world that you can have something that's usually denied from you. In the case of the ugly guy, he's acquiring beauty that he himself doesn't possess. In the case of the poor man, he gets a taste of what it's like to be rich. For the socially inept, the social atmosphere the significant other generates more than makes up for what's lacking. Yet it's also not as one-sided as this. For example, the beautiful girlfriend only looks more beautiful alongside her not-so-pleasant-looking boyfriend. The rich friend appears more wealthy, at least compared to his poor friend. And the socialite can revel in the attention he or she receives, especially when the socialite's friends comment on how shy the significant other is. I'm not saying this is bad. I mean if I were poor, wouldn't I want to have riches? And if that were the case, wouldn't riches look more attractive to me, than say, beauty? And similarly, if I had riches but lacked beauty, wouldn't someone or something pretty be more valuable? And if I didn't have enough confidence in myself, a good morale booster would be finding someone or something that doesn't seem threatening. I mean if I was the beautiful girlfriend and I had a handsome boyfriend, I might think that I'm not beautiful enough and my handsome boyfriend might leave me for someone else. But he wasn't as attractive, I could always think that he got the better deal and so won't leave me for someone else (even though that's not necessarily true).

Fascination can also be a motivating factor. I mean when someone is similar to us, we have insight into their lives, simply because we have something in common. A student, for example, can empathize more with fellow students but not with teachers. Sometimes, the other person becomes an enigma that we become attracted to them. Take for example the silent guy with deep thoughts. The girl who talks a lot might find the silent guy attractive because of the mystery that surrounds him. Unlike herself whose thoughts are transparent, she knows little about the guy aside from what's apparent. Or similarly, an artist might be attracted to the businessman, because the latter knows how to engage in business. The latter is also attracted to the former because his thoughts are usually logical while the former is more creative. When we encounter the unknown, there are only usually two reactions: either we fear it, or we become fascinated with it. If it's the former, we'll most likely stick to those we know, hence "like attracts like". If it's the latter, the phenomena of opposites attract occurs.

Another reason is linked to to the belief that "birds of the same feather flock together". If I was lazy and wanted to be hard-working, should I hang out with lazy people or hard-working people? It's obviously the latter, and it's because we want other people's talents to rub off on ourselves. I mean we see cowards hiding behind the courageous, the meek people under the wing of strong men and women, the average following the advice of the geniuses. It's not necessarily because the former wants to take advantage of the latter, but sometimes, it's because the former wants to become like the latter. And honestly, one of the best ways we learn is via exposure and mimicry. Sometimes it pays off. That's why people usually look for mentorship or leadership. Talent is developed. People who were once nobodies eventually become great men and women thanks to the apprenticeship of someone great. Cowards eventually conquer their fears by learning from the example of courageous individuals. It's not such a bad deal really. But of course, it doesn't work all the time. Just because I act like someone and talk like someone does not make me that someone. Copying and learning aren't exclusive to each other. Sometimes, we merely become poseurs, a wannabe who just happens to have the right connections and hangs out with the right people. Does that make me one of them? Not necessarily. At other times, we genuinely learn something from the other person, and we make the transition from trying to becoming. Eventually, someone who tries to write that great novel, for example, eventually writes that great novel. All those years practicing the craft and copying other writer's styles eventually pays off. The person is no longer copying any particular writer's style, but developed his or her own. And this can only be achieved by constant exposure. If we want to be good at something, we first find someone we can look up to or has accomplished that something we want to do, and we try to emulate them as much as we can. It's turning our weaknesses into strengths.

The last reason I find this situation to be true is when we do so to complement ourselves. A good example is any successful organization or business. Obviously, a lot of skills are needed in such an enterprise, and most likely, no one person has all the necessary skills to succeed. The solution is building a team. A team is composed of many members, each one with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. The strength of one member complements the strength of the other members so that the weaknesses are covered up. Sometimes, there's even synergy that takes the group to new heights. Similarly, such a couple can also exist. There's the responsible wife who takes care of the details, while the husband determines the general direction of things. Or just look at the archaic image of the husband and wife: the husband provides for the family, while the wife takes care of the family. In this scenario, our individual weaknesses stop being weaknesses because there's someone else to take over.

I'm not professing any particular ideology here, but we do see how it's possible for completely different people to be attracted to each other. While people usually get along when they have a common ground, it's equally likely too that people will get along simply because they're different from each other.


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