Harmony Is...Understanding by Liv Olteano
June 08

Harmony Is...Understanding by Liv Olteano

Imagine living your life in a bubble of sorts. In a closed-in environment, with controlled temperature and no sunlight. How would that affect you as a human being? How would it affect your personality? Would it make you a better person or a worse one? Would you be more or less understanding than you are?


In Thirteen Mercies, Three Kills, Cristina Mera is a bit of a rebel—in her heart, she doesn’t conform to the arbitrary rules of her world, but she doesn’t fully defy them either. At least, not in the beginning :D When I built the world of Alkemia, I wanted to point out just how arbitrary society’s rules really are. In a way, we’re all just like Cristina Mera, living in a community with its rules and regulations, with its conventions. And we either follow them or rebel against them, either in our hearts or in an obvious outward way.


I find rebelling to be proof of a mature character, not of a teen/new-adult one, actually. Though theory will tell you the rebelling age is the teenage years, and later on in life we begin to conform to the “social contract”—a set of written and unwritten rules people in a community tend to follow. But simply because a number of people follow conventions, it makes those people and those conventions neither good nor bad—it’s all a matter of perspective.


I’m inclined to believe that the more such conventions we feel obligated to follow, the more we yearn to break free of them. Cristina Mera certainly does yearn to do things her own way. But it takes meeting someone who actively rebels, Nikola Skazat—a wanderer alkemist and a cross dresser—for Cristina Mera to begin to understand who she is and how she might be willing to express that. In a way, meeting someone very different from her helps her figure out who she truly is and what she is and isn’t willing to do with herself and her life. So her ability to understand grows as she encounters diversity.


Without the presence of diversity, I feel we’d all be so much poorer in terms of knowledge of ourselves and the world at large.


Perhaps at the heart of understanding is love and knowledge. Because newborns and pets often understand each other—and it comes from their ability to love unconditionally, in my opinion. While their knowledge is supposedly limited, their ability to understand, accept, and love one another seems to be endless. As we grow up and society beats us over the head with its particular conventions, our ability to be understanding relies more on knowledge—and sometimes we lose the ability to love unconditionally (due to upbringing, social conventions or unfortunate personal experience), so all we have left is knowledge. And during the process of defining our ability to love unconditionally or under certain conditions, we figure out who we are as individuals and how we relate to the world at large and every one of its inhabitants—which will shape just how understanding we will be.


I enjoyed following Cristina Mera through a process of being confronted with diversity in a way she hadn’t been until then, and see her grow as a result. It’s an ongoing process, of course—we never cease to learn and understand for as long as we’re alive, after all. But as her story evolved, I often found myself wondering about how well people will understand her. And then I wondered how well we understand people around us, even our loved ones—because how much do we truly know about them? Often, not as much as we should or like. At times, way more than we might have been ready for. But we tend to be understanding with our loved ones—and I wonder why. Because we know so much about them, or fear the fact that there’s so much more we actually don’t know?


Does being an understanding person come from what we do know, or from what we actually think we don’t or might not? And how does love figure into that equation? Do we love what we understand and know, understand what we love, or are we understanding toward who/what we don’t truly know?


What do you think is at the heart of understanding—knowledge, love, both of them, or something else?