We’re probably all familiar with the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty, the egg-man who falls from a wall. As children, we learned some important lessons from Humpty. We learned about the dangers associated with heights. We also learned that eggs are fragile objects that can be safely dropped from heights during science class given the right resources (e.g. cardboard boxes, popsicle sticks, and packing peanuts). But, in adulthood, I’ve learned more lessons from Humpty. In case it’s been a while since you recited this little rhyme, here it is:
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together, again.
Let’s break this down and track down some of the adult lessons that can be found within. There are only four lines, so this shouldn’t take long…right?
“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall”
This opener sets up the story with a third party observing Humpty sitting in a, presumably, stable manner atop a wall. We have no idea how long he’s been there, how he got there, or how high this wall may be. But, at this point in the story we have no reason to believe he is in any real danger. This is likely true of nearly every person we may encounter day to day. Most of us look stable and happy to an outside observer. Sometimes we even believe that we are stable ourselves. Sometimes learning that we have been precariously perched comes as a surprise…and it can happen quickly.
“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall”
Well, shit. That did in fact escalate rather quickly. Humpty’s fall wasn’t just a slight tumble. It seems that our titular character was more at risk than we initially thought. His fall was great, and we can wager fairly safely that [spoiler alert] some injuries were sustained in the fall. It’s important to remember how we’re hearing this story…in third person. If we give the narrator the benefit of the doubt, he didn’t know until it was too late that Humpty was in dire need of help to avoid his great fall. If we don’t give the narrator that benefit, it’s possible he chose not to involve himself as it wasn’t his personal problem to deal with. I like playing the role of devil’s advocate, so I’m going to take the stance that the narrator chose to remain uninvolved. Here’s why…
“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men”
More people are now involved. Maybe the narrator summoned the men and their horses. Maybe the cavalry arrived as word spread from other onlookers. Either way, the narrator alludes to no personal involvement in aiding poor Humpty in his time of great need. I see indifference. I’ve been guilty of it. I’ve been the victim of it. It’s the mentality that whatever is happening to that person, over there, doesn’t directly affect me…”so why should I bother getting involved?” Maybe we choose not to get involved because our own life is so tumultuous that we think it impossible to offer any assistance to someone else in need. Maybe offering help is too inconvenient or too costly. Maybe we view the needy person as having caused their own situation, and thus see them as a hopeless cause. Maybe the person in need doesn’t specifically ask for help (Humpty didn’t), so we assume they’ve got it figured out. These biases are within all of us, and I’m certain that the king’s men would have them as well.
“Couldn’t put Humpty together, again”
Think about the last time you dropped a glass, plate, or light bulb. Simply collecting all of the broken pieces is painfully time consuming. I usually collect a few pieces with my feet over the next few days. I’ve never once even tried to try piecing one of those objects back together. It shouldn’t surprise us at all that the king’s men were unsuccessful. Even if they did have all the pieces to work with, imagine attempting this “surgery” on a patient that is constantly contorting and batting away the hands of the helpers when something feels particularly painful.
All of us are Humpty Dumpty. We’ve all experienced something that’s broken us. Some of us are more broken than others. Some of us don’t realize how broken we are. I am broken. My life was “stable” until a little over a year ago, at least it probably seemed that way from the outside looking in. My marriage failed. I failed. Chaos and depression took over my life. They still rule over me sometimes. I’ve felt the sting of indifference. I’ve given the air of not needing help. I’ve watched many of “the [K]ing’s men” turn away from what I’m sure seems like a lost cause. I’ve turned down help and embraced the “lost cause” title. I’ve picked up what pieces I can find, and I’ve tried filling the gaps with anything that would fit. I’m certain I’ll never find all of the broken pieces, and I’ll never be the same person I was before the great fall. That’s probably a good thing. After all, that guy fell off the wall.