A week or so ago, a friend of mine was filling out a personality questionnaire (yeah, for an online matchmaking service). We were chatting by instant messaging at the same time, so we were nit-picking, snarking and considering some of the various questions (we like to joke with each other). But she hit one question that made her pause for a bit. And I had to stop and think about it as well.
The question went something like this: After your parents, who is the person who has had the most influence on your life?
It’s a good question.
Now, I’m a Christian. So the easy, quick, simple answer to that question would be “Jesus.” And it would be true. But it also doesn’t go very far into explaining the rest of my personality and how that was influenced and shaped. So I looked beyond that level.
And looked. And thought.
There have been many people in my life that I have admired greatly and have striven to emulate in some fashion. There are many people that I’ve learned important things from. There have been many people whom I just love as friends and so have taken aspects of them into myself. And yet, for all that, I couldn’t settle on one person who had had a powerful effect on the shaping of my personality and/or outlook.
Until I started thinking “outside the box.”
Because what I discovered was that the “person” who had the greatest influence (after my parents and the Lord) in shaping my personality wasn’t a real person at all, but rather a fictional one.
Now, I may have heard the name “Sherlock Holmes” when I was very young, but I don’t think it meant anything to me. However, when I was in fourth grade (and at the advanced age of ten), on a chance, I made a mostly unsupervised excursion into a book store. And there I made what I think was one of my first independently chosen purchases of a book. I bought a paperback copy of His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
At the time, I didn’t know that it was the last collection of stories about Holmes. All I knew at the time was that the stories and the character fascinated me. In a relatively short time after that (during the next year, I think), I worked my way through the whole canon of stories.
I was always a pretty literal child, very straightforward in many ways. So the discovery of this character who reveled in exercising his Powers of Observation, who would rationally and logically evaluate things without the color of an emotional context, this excited me. I wanted so much to be able to see the details that Sherlock could see, and to make the logical conclusions from those details that he could make. So much so, that a summer or so later, my “summer fun project” was to set up a consulting detective agency. Alas, eleven and twelve year olds on summer vacation don’t have much need of consulting detectives.
But aside from that unfulfilled recreation, the “magic” of Sherlock Holmes worked its way into my thinking. Since I was already inclined to approach things in a similar fashion to Holmes, his little lectures on his solutions or observations were like seeds falling into very fertile soil.
On the one hand, Holmes taught me not to make assumptions too quickly about things I saw or heard. But with that was paired the awareness that combining specific little details together could create a contextual picture. But even with that was the warning that the contextual picture might still be incomplete. So, Holmes also taught me to be prepared to re-evaluate my understanding of things that had gone before.
Now, I’m not claiming that I consciously understood these points as I was reading, understanding that I was learning them and making them part of myself. No. That awareness came several years later. What I did understand at that point was that I had found something that challenged my mind in a way that nothing else I’d encountered up till then had done. That was exciting. And the foreign-to-me world of Victorian England was intriguing to visit, time and again. (I’m a great re-reader.)
Beyond the training of the rational mind, I found in the stories of Sherlock Holmes a character who was passionate about justice, who in spite of his apparent disdain for emotion and relationship involvements was incredibly loyal to his friend (who returned that loyalty), who frequently displayed mercy toward people who had gone astray but wished to repent, and who was not above playful intellectual mischief. I understood Sherlock Holmes.
So, after considering all these things, I have no qualms about claiming that the “person” after my parents and the Lord who has had the most thorough influence on me is Sherlock Holmes. For good or ill. But I prefer to think it was for good.