“People are NOT what they seem to be before we really get to know them,” an acquaintance of mine said with great authority. She went on to say that the true, hidden natures of most people are concealed behind masks of polite behavior and what they think is expected of them. However, once the pressure is on, the masks come off. True natures are revealed."The more stress people are under," my friend said, "the less guarded they are. And then their actions reveal them.”
For better or for worse, this conversation brought me back to a certain tragedy I had been a part of, once upon a time. In this incredibly stressful situation, people were under immense pressure. Anxiety times one thousand. Despite all the fear and the horror, people acted with amazing kindness and heroism. However, I've also witnessed some pretty hideous shenanigans from people under crazy amounts of stress. Were all of these folks, in both situations, showing their truest selves? Do we reveal who we really are by the spontaneous choices that we make under duress?
Of course, this applies to the characters in stories, too. After all, they should be having rough times. They should be up to their foreheads in trouble and tension and stress. So, if my friend is right, there should be lots of opportunities for writers to show the truths behind their characters.
What do you think? Do the choices people or characters make under pressure reveal their true natures or simply other facets of their personalities?