How Shel Silverstein Taught Me About Love
To master the key to love and relationships, we must turn to one of the greatest children’s writers of all time, Shel Silverstein.
Few people are able to tap into the human psyche quite like Shel Silverstein. His books, which teach us about complex human emotions, delighting children and adults alike, provide deep messages with true staying power. I recently read one of my favorites, which is an allegory for love and fulfillment; The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.
The Missing Piece Meets the Big O was a 1981 sequel written by Shel Silverstein about his 1976 book, The Missing Piece. The original book was told from the perspective of a circle that was missing its piece. The circle later found the piece, only to realize that it was better off without it.
The sequel, which gets at the heart of love, is told from the perspective of the wedge-shaped missing piece. In the story, the piece tries to find it’s complement by attempting to pair up with various different shapes, all which don’t quite fit. One of the shapes put the piece on a pedestal, only for the piece to find out that it didn’t like to be held up there, all alone. The piece even tried to change itself to appear more attractive in order to find another to complete it. At one point in the story, the missing piece found a circle in which to fit, but was later discarded once the piece itself grew and no longer matched up.
Finally, the piece met the Big O, which had a perfect piece-sized shape open and available to accommodate it. The missing piece asked the O to join, to which the big O replied, “You cannot roll with me, but perhaps you can roll by yourself.” The Big O let the missing piece know that it could roll by itself, empowering the piece to start to flop, and then roll, as it reshaped itself, and got rid of its sharp corners. The missing piece then became its own O-shaped self, and rolled off along with the Big O.
This story is simple in its use of words and illustrations, yet complex in ability to untangle how we as humans approach finding partners. It stands in opposition to the commonly held belief that we must find a partner to complement us, and to seek out someone who will make us feel complete. If we were to do this, we would have no room for our own personal growth. In addition, it shows that changing ourselves to fit in with others never ends on a positive note.
The story relates to the Michelangelo effect, a psychological phenomenon describing how romantic partners influence one another. Michelangelo created sculptures from stone and felt that it was important not to impose his perspective on the stone. Instead, he allowed the stone, and thus the sculpture, to reveal itself. To tie this to relationships, your partner shouldn’t define you, but allow you to reveal yourself.
Essentially what we need is two complete, self-reliant wholes, rather than a situation in which we attempt to derive our strength from another. Trying to gain a sense of self through another person becomes problematic, as you wrap your self-worth up in that individual. You must be strong enough to stand, or in this case, roll on your own.
We should not feel sorry for the missing piece. The scenario must just be reframed. The piece was never missing, but needed to realize its own strength before rolling with others, which was found from within.