In the modern classic The Incredibles, Bob (Mr. Incredible) returns home from some forbidden crime-fighting to an angry wife, Helen (Elastigirl, or Mrs. Incredible). They argue about the political ban on superheroes, moving, changing jobs, and sports for their son, but the argument isn’t about any of those things.
It’s the same in all of our relationships, isn’t it? The most common example of conflict in marriage revolves around the toothpaste cap. We all know no one actually leaves the cap off of the tube. Unless they do… Does this come from somewhere in real life? Why haven’t I thought about this sooner? I figured it was just some nonsensical hypothetical scenario, like making “widgets” in business classes. What kind of savage doesn’t put the cap back on? Maybe it is totally imagined, it has to be.
Anyway, it’s a solid example because toothpaste caps are small and insignificant, and the fights are big, loud, very significant, and not about oral hygiene or bathroom cleanliness at all. They’re about respect or value or minimization or resentment or fear or insecurity or inadequacy or regret, any number of reasons, really, and all things that have their roots much older and farther reaching than toothpaste. It’s like treating the cut in the skin rather than the broken bone that caused the tear.
There are 2 monsters in the closet here, 2 “broken bones,” as far as I can tell. First, we often hide, pretending that we’re perfect and nothing is wrong. That if we’re not fighting right now, then that must mean we have peace. We don’t communicate well, we ignore warning lights and signs, choosing to act like the white picket fence doesn’t have termites. This all comes from general, garden variety laziness and more importantly, our propensity to choose comfort, convenience, and ease.
I guess there’s only 1 monster, because that last paragraph was a list of symptoms, too. Helen finally ends the argument in the movie with, “This is NOT. ABOUT. YOU.” The bone that’s broken and in great need of attention is our narcissism. We are very selfish. The Bible calls this idolatry, and all that means is that we are our own gods, we are our own #1. I’m angry about the cap you left off because of what it says to/about me. I’m frustrated and resentful because you don’t do what I want you to do, what I think you should do. I’m offended because you are disrespectful of my wants and needs, scared because you aren’t properly deferential to me and my expectations, inadequate and insecure because you might not want or need me and what will that say about me???
This is almost entirely why we can’t talk about religion or politics like human beings. We identify with a position so closely that another position is not simply judging ideas or concepts or platforms, it is judging us. I’m so thoroughly identified, to discard my opinion is to discard me, to deem it less is to deem me less. We don’t usually do this with choice of condiments or sodas, so we can easily talk about the merits of ketchup without coming to blows. We cannot with our theology or our political affiliation.
Most conversations are variations on that Incredibles scene. We’re talking out loud about Dash playing sports, but barely concealed is a defense of our own worth and fear at becoming obsolete and discarded. And we are way too terrified to be vulnerable enough to drag the real issue into the light. So we dance around sports, tenets, and toothpaste caps, unable to say anything real.
It’s the most depressing scene in the movie by a mile, and every one of us can easily relate. We are all Bob Paar; Incredible, overflowing with so many talents, gifts and abilities…and wildly desperate that you notice. The thing is that all of the ways we try too hard to be these pathetic gods only obscure how super we really are.