The Oak and the Stream

Oak                                     -                      Stream
Robust                                -                      Resilient

In this year's Celebrity Big Brother we've witnessed a number of the contests being condemned for being "two-faced," and for "sitting on the fence." These concepts are often employed as a means to criticize, but is it possible that they could have other, more positive, uses?

If we look at the images that lie behind these criticisms we see that they're concerned with the same idea. To be two-faced is to fail to be one-faced; in other words, it is to fail to present a consistent face, to stick to an image. So the two-faced person may present a certain face in this situation (and with these people), yet may present an entirely different face in that situation (with those people). The criticism seems to take for granted that to have one face is the favoured way to be, the "right" way.

When we are one-faced we are faithful to a single image, a single way of being. The one-face is a monotheistic mode, borne from the notion that to be one way - and to be certain of this way - is the ideal way to be. In Celebrity Big Brother perhaps the most stringent advocate of the mono-face mode is Vinnie Jones.

Jones represents the image of the Great Oak; rooted firmly into the earth, it would take a truly catastrophic event to move the Oak; its thick bark protects it from the elements; its trunk does not bend or sway in even the strongest of winds; the Oak can be leaned upon for means of support, and provides a sturdy shelter for those who seek it.

Jones's language and behaviours give us clues to his nature. In a conversation with Alex (a sapling to Jones' Oak, swaying this way and that, but yet to become immune to the breeze) he urges him to become something (to put down firmer roots). Supported by Steven (a classic American Hardwood) he criticizes Alex for being "a bit of everything" whilst being "none of them." For Jones, to be a bit of everything is to be nothing at all. He sees no value in being in-between; to be in-between is to be ineffectual.

Jones is sure of who he is and of his opinions. Like the Oak, he is firmly rooted and immovable. Yet, in Jones we see an Oak that detests anything that does not mirror its own sturdy nature. He is the one to most frequently bring down the label of "two-faced" upon the heads of his fellow housemates, and it is he who seems most irked when they "sit on the fence" or "go between camps." He is bothered by ways of being that present contrary images to his own.

To be two-faced, to sit on the fence and to go between camps all bring to mind images of fluidity and flexibility; as with Alex, the two-faced person - the fence-sitter, the go-betweener - suggests a tree that sways, that gives. They also bring to mind the image of water or oil, its tendency to slip and slide and to evade solid form. Indeed, the two-faced person is often seen as slippery - assuming one form in this instance and another in that - and as such they cannot be relied upon (leaned upon) or trusted (to maintain a singular form).

When - like Jones - we attribute a negative value to fluid images, we risk overlooking the positive value that they can bring us. If we view two-faced from another angle, then we may see it as having two languages. Thus, to sit on the fence, or to go between camps is to carry messages, from one Oak to another. The Oak - so proud of its strength, its surety - does not realise that because it is so firmly rooted it may have lost the ability to move, and thus to communicate with other equally well rooted neighbours. If it is too enamoured by its own image, it may not realise how much it needs a go-between, to bring news from afar and to carry its own communications.

And so the go-between becomes the stream, weaving through the forest and carrying messages within its water. When we are two-faced we become like the stream, extending our repertoire - our languages - so we are able to speak to more people. In our two-faced mode we are able to communicate more widely than in our one-faced mode. In fact, we could probably go further and describe the stream as multi-faced, because it does not limit its faces to only two. It wants to communicate with as many things as it can - it feels the importance of this duty for the harmony of the forest - and so it adopts as many faces as it is able, doing its best to open lines of communication with everything it meets.

The Oak has much to be proud of, and within the eco-system his role is an important one. Of course, we are not Oaks, and we needn't be as firmly rooted. But like the Oak, our danger is in holding our own way of being in such high esteem that we forget how vital other modes are to our eco-system, to the harmony of our society. If the unshifting element of our character - our mono-face - takes its mask too literally then we will have difficulty in communicating with those who contradict this mask; our opposites. In times like these we would be well advised to remember the stream and its multi-faceted nature; because it does not literalize any of its faces, its masks, the stream has no opposites, no enemies.

The forest is our eco-system, our environment and society. But its multiplicities - all of its different forms of life, including both Oak and stream - exist as potential within each of us. All play their role, and all must be remembered, and respected.