Both Things Can Be True

It’s psychologically simpler to see the world in black and white. But reality often comes in shades of gray. This week, how our minds grapple with contradictions, especially those we see in other people. 

Additional Resources


Acculturation Strategies and Integrative Complexity: The Cognitive Implications of Biculturalism. Carmit T. Tadmor, Philip E. Tetlock, Kaiping Peng. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 2009.

Integrative Complexity of Communications in International Crises. Peter Suedfeld, Philip Tetlock. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 1977.

Integrative Complexity: An Approach to Individuals and Groups as Information-Processing System. Michael J. Driver and Siegried Streufert, Administrative Science Quarterly, 1969.

Grab Bag:

Here is an image of Rubin’s Vase.

The transcript below may be for an earlier version of this episode. Our transcripts are provided by various partners and may contain errors or deviate slightly from the audio.

Shankar Vedantam: This is Hidden Brain, I'm Shankar Vedantam. More than 100 years ago, a Danish man named Edgar Rubin created an image. It became so popular you can still buy posters of it today. The image is known as Rubin's Vase. If you Google it right now, you might see a black vase against a white background. But if you stare at it, another image suddenly jumps out. Not a vase, but two faces in profile gazing at each other across a black background. Rubin wasn't an artist, he was a psychologist. And he was interested in how the mind deciphers visual cues. There are many versions of Rubin's Vase, there's one where you see either a duck or a rabbit, another where you see either a young girl or an old woman. The point is that it's either or, your mind alternates between seeing one picture or the other, but not both. I've often tried to make myself see both the waves and the faces at the same time, it's really hard to do. But if I succeed, it's usually only for a moment, then my mind snaps back into the groove of seeing either one picture or the other. Edgar Rubin's creation is a metaphor for our times. In so many ways, across so many domains, we are pulled toward either or thinking. Are the people around us friends or foes, sinners or saints, superheroes or supervillains? What are we to make of the neighbor who brings us soup when we are sick but also shares vile opinions on social media, the supportive friend who's a bully at work, the hated politician who passes a law that we like? These contradictions can be especially difficult within close relationships, when the people who mean the most to us are also the ones who hurt us deeply. This week on Hidden Brain, the story of a woman named Stephanie Kelln and her complicated relationship with a friend named Kim. We explore what their unusual story reveals about a mental ability that allows us to see the world in all its complexity.

Shankar Vedantam: A quick note if you're listening with small children, this episode includes discussions of addiction and a suicide attempt. In college, Stephanie Kelln always felt there were two Stephanie's inside her. One was a student who kept everything together, the only one who woke up for 8:00 AM classes as a freshman, the only one on her dorm floor who didn't drink. The other Stephanie carried around several demons from her childhood. Her family had moved around a lot, living 10 different homes by the time she was 18, they were poor. For years, Stephanie says, she was abused by someone close. When she turned 21, she had a drink for the first time and the Stephanie no one else could see burst into view.

Stephanie Kelln: The first time that alcohol hit my lips, I was drinking alcoholically. I had no buildup, I had no, "Oh, I'm just going to party." Nope, it was drink to blackout from the get go, from my 21st birthday. So I kept up the outer view of me where I was this straight laced girl who never did anything wrong and got straight A's and did everything right.

Shankar Vedantam: For a while, she managed to juggle both lives. She wanted to be a piano teacher and she kept up with her schoolwork.

Stephanie Kelln: When I could get to the point of the evening where I didn't have any homework left and I had done all of my piano practicing, I would drink an entire bottle of peppermint Schnapps, for example, and just black out. And then get up for my 8:00 AM classes and push myself and push myself. When I graduated from college, this was my pattern.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie graduated with high honors in 2001. She met a cute guy at a church singles group the next year and soon they got married. She achieved her dream, landing a job as an elementary school music teacher, her partner had a good job too. From the outside, their lives looked glamorous.

Stephanie Kelln: We were having corporate dinners at our house and I was hosting these big elaborate dinner parties. But then, of course, I would then drink a whole bottle of vodka when I was alone.

Shankar Vedantam: The pattern continued for nearly seven years, teach kids during the day, be the good corporate wife in the evening, drink until she blacked out at night. In January, 2009, Stephanie's marriage collapsed. She felt like she didn't need to fake things anymore. When school let out for the summer, she started drinking around the clock. Wake up, drink, black out, repeat.

Stephanie Kelln: And here I was 30 years old, life had screwed me over. So my double life became one life and it became my alcoholic life and I didn't try to hide my pain anymore.

Shankar Vedantam: In her mind, there was good Stephanie and there was bad Stephanie. Good Stephanie taught kids music, worked hard. Bad Stephanie drank to black out, abandoned her dreams, there was no one in between. One day in June, 2009, she woke up from drinking all night and reached straight for her vodka, but...

Stephanie Kelln: Something though made me stop. Instead of my vodka, I went to my computer and I looked up AA.

Shankar Vedantam: AA of course is Alcoholics Anonymous, the support group for people fighting alcohol addiction. Stephanie went to an AA meeting. When it was over, a woman walked up and introduced herself. For reasons that will become clear, we're only using her first name, Kim.

Stephanie Kelln: She was just this bright, charismatic girl, 5'10'', blonde, gorgeous, one of those girls that would never have even given me the time of day in high school. She had a swagger, she had this air about her that made you feel like you could tell her anything. This confidence in her own self but also this confidence in the other sense of the word that you could bring her into your confidence and tell her anything, someone who would be your instant best friend. And she comes over to me and she gives me her phone number and says to me, "Call me. No matter what, whenever it is, day or night, call me." It was the first time anyone had ever seen the real me and still wanted to talk to me.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie kept returning to AA meetings, partly because she wanted to see more of her new friend. Kim introduced Stephanie to other regulars, she checked in on her. A few weeks later, Stephanie was up late at night, her mind spinning in circles from not drinking. She paced her apartment chain smoking wide awake. Suddenly she had a mad impulse.

Stephanie Kelln: I'm an avid reader and I had three bookshelves full of books. Here I am in my little apartment at 1:00 in the morning and I find that in order to stay sober, I have to alphabetize my books right now. I take all my books off my shelf and all my books are on my apartment living room floor, and I start alphabetizing. But then I get one shelf in and I think, wait, should I alphabetize it by title or by author last name?

Shankar Vedantam: Oh my God.

Stephanie Kelln: I about two shelves in go, you know what? I should call someone. And I call Kim at two in the morning, she picks up, I tell her I'm going crazy. I'm alphabetizing my books. And she says, come on over.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie drove the five minutes to Kim's house, full of gratitude for her new friend

Stephanie Kelln: That night. I was trying to stay sober, sleeping on her couch. In the morning, she was like, "Hey, I'm looking for a roommate." And I was like, "Sure, this is the nicest anyone has treated me in my entire life. I'll move in with this girl."

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie prepared for the move and she began spending more and more time with Kim.

Stephanie Kelln: Over those next weeks, I started meeting other people and would go to her house. She would have people over, she would have huge sober parties. And I would stay up all night at a 24 hour diner on Colfax in Denver called Pete's Kitchen with people from the meetings. And we would just keep each other company to try to not drink.

Shankar Vedantam: For Stephanie, the AA group was a lifeline, an oasis. At the center of it was this new friend, Kim, who was there to pick her up whenever she stumbled.

Stephanie Kelln: It was a really beautiful time of finding people and being real with people. At the same time, just not really being able to string together any more than a few days before I would go back to the bottle.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie wasn't struggling just to remain sober, she was struggling with increasingly deep depression. A note that this next part of the story has to do with suicide.

Stephanie Kelln: I had this belief that things weren't supposed to be good for me. Nothing would actually ever get good because nothing in my life ever was good. I was convinced that death was the only option because I was never going to be able to have a happy life.

Shankar Vedantam: One night, she was in her apartment alone, she had missed that day's AA meeting.

Stephanie Kelln: I had already drunk the handle of vodka and I had my pills ready. I said, "I don't see a way out, I don't see a way to have a happy life because it's all just going to become s**t anyway. And I don't see a way to escape the bad." That was when Kim called me. Miracle number one was that I actually picked up the phone and that she called me at that moment. She called me to see why I wasn't at that daily meeting. Miracle number two was that I was honest with her and I told her "I'm going to kill myself." I don't remember what was going through my head except that I just didn't care anymore, I just didn't care. Couldn't see any way out, couldn't see which way to go, just didn't care what happened to me, didn't care who knew. As soon as I said, "Well, I'm sitting here going to kill myself." She just said, "Oh, I'll be right over."

Shankar Vedantam: When we come back, how Kim saved Stephanie's life. You're listening to Hidden Brain, I'mShankar Vedantam.

New Speaker: This is Hidden Brain I'mShankar Vedantam. Every day from the moment we wake up, our minds are interpreting the things we see, like Edgar Rubin's famous image, and telling us this is a vase or these are two faces. So much of this happens outside of conscious awareness. We rarely stop and think about whether we are seeing a complete view of the world, if we are seeing things in all that complexity. Some people seem better than others at holding competing concepts in their heads. Psychologists call this integrative complexity. Can you see that Edgar Rubin's picture is not just a phase and it's not just two faces but both at the same time? Our social groups often yank us away from integrative complexity. Our tribes often want us to see things as they see them. Take a hot button issue like abortion, opponents of abortion say it's about the life of an unborn child, supporters of abortion rights say the central issue is a woman's right to choose. One side says ending a life is wrong, there's nothing else to talk about. The other side says a woman's control over her own body is sacrosanct, there's nothing else to discuss. If you have strong views on the subject but attempt to understand where the other side is coming from, chances are that the people on your side will come down on you like a ton of bricks. One reason integrative complexity is so hard, it might seem, sometimes even in our own minds like disloyalty. At the point Stephanie Kelln tried to take her own life, there was only one way for her to see her friend Kim, she was an unambiguous force for good. When Stephanie told Kim what she was doing, Kim dropped everything and rushed over.

Stephanie Kelln: The rest is a little bit foggy because I was already drunk, I remember her coming into my apartment, I don't know, it could have been two minutes later, it could have been 15 minutes later. I remember her walking, as if in a dream, her walking me down to her car, putting me in her car, driving me to the hospital, to the emergency room. She tried to get me to fill out the information, but I didn't care, I just didn't care. I was put on a 72 hour suicide hold in their psych unit and they put me to bed. It was the most horrible but also the most freeing moment of my entire life. All of my pretenses were gone, I just let go. I found out later that I had been going through alcoholic seizures. It was as if I was in water and I was just surfacing every now and then. Surfacing, and that's how I lived for three days.

Shankar Vedantam: After three days, Stephanie entered long-term care in the hospital. She started the path to recovery. She still remembers the moment when she finally surfaced for good.

Stephanie Kelln: I was sitting in our group and outside the window, the sun was setting. It was shining right in my eye. And it just was that moment of, I don't want to miss this, what am I doing? I want to live, this is a beautiful world. And then followed by, wow, that girl saved my life. Followed by, I need to get sober. Just one after another, just boom, boom. It came around to my time to share and I just remember saying, "Guys, I want to live." And the room just erupted in cheering and was like, "Yes, you did it." And it was amazing, I'll never forget it.

Shankar Vedantam: Kim didn't just save her life, she helped to run Stephanie's life while she was in the hospital.

Stephanie Kelln: While I was in the suicide hold and the two weeks in the psych ward, I didn't have my phone or my wallet or any of that because they want you, of course, to be disconnected from the outside world in order to focus on recovery. So she took care of all of that for me. At that time, I was still paying bills through check. So she took my checkbook and I would sign a few checks and she would pay my bills for me. She didn't have a car of her own so she drove my car while I was in the hospital. But would fill it with gas and she would wash it and make sure that it was all ready for me when I got out. I needed to put some of my things in storage, so she took care of a storage unit. So I had all this jewelry and my wedding ring from my divorce at that time. And yeah, just went above and beyond.

Shankar Vedantam: When Stephanie got out of the hospital, her lease on her apartment was about to end. Kim invited her to move in.

Stephanie Kelln: I was like, "Yes, of course, I'll move in with you." And all I had to do was just basically drive over to my new apartment, with her.

Shankar Vedantam: But at this point, this is somebody who is playing more than the role of a friend. She comes over, saves your life, takes you to the ER, looks after your affairs, pays your bill, pays your rent, looks after your car, gets you to sign a lease moving into her place, moves your stuff into storage, essentially have you come over. At this point, she's almost a parent to you.

Stephanie Kelln: Oh, she was everything. She was a pseudo parent is the right word for it. I was nothing but grateful to her, obliged to her, dependent upon her. Anything that she needed, it was, yes.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie trusted Kim in a way she had never done with another human being.

Stephanie Kelln: I would still have those sleepless nights where I would just be out of my mind with wanting to drink. And one night we sat on our front porch smoking way into the night. As we smoked cigarettes out there, she started asking me about my past. I found myself telling her things I'd never told anyone in my entire life.

Shankar Vedantam: Stephanie shared details about her troubled childhood and the trauma of living in poverty and being abused.

Stephanie Kelln: She told me about when someone does a bad thing, shame is created. And she said, "Think of shame as a black ball and somebody has to hold that black ball, and often it's the victims who end up holding that black ball."

Shankar Vedantam: Kim told Stephanie that the ball of shame she was carrying around wasn't hers to hold any longer.

Stephanie Kelln: I cried and we hugged and I felt listened to for the first time.

Shankar Vedantam: As winter turned to spring, the two women grew closer and closer. Stephanie had gone back to work after getting out of the hospital and staying with Kim helped keep her sober. At one point, Kim asked Stephanie for a $4,000 loan. Stephanie had alimony from her divorce and lent him the money. It felt like the least she could do. In April 2010, Stephanie relapsed. She went back to rehab this time for four months. Kim took care of her affairs while she was away as before. When Stephanie left rehab, Kim had moved into a new apartment, she invited Stephanie to join her again.

Stephanie Kelln: But I had decided that I needed to try things on my own and she supported that.

Shankar Vedantam: The rehab program set Stephanie up with a furnished apartment. She moved in at the end of September 2010.

Stephanie Kelln: So I moved into, for the very first time, my very own apartment sober, feeling great, paying all my bills, going to work, living a sober life, feeling peaceful, feeling happy.

Shankar Vedantam: A week or so later, Stephanie invited Kim over. They both had things to celebrate, Stephanie was on the right track with her sobriety and Kim had finished her studies to become a certified addictions counselor. When Kim arrived at the door of the building, she called up to Stephanie to look out the window of the apartment.

Stephanie Kelln: So I go over and I look out of the window and I look down and there she is on the curb in front of my apartment building with this brand new Dodge. She had been driving beaters and then they had died and then she wasn't driving and she was just walking. And she's like, "I got a new car." And at that point, she had started working at a rehab. She was doing really good salary wise. And here I was, sober and in my own place, and everything was great, it was just thrilling, and we were so excited for each other. And that night was wonderful.

Shankar Vedantam: A short while later, Kim returned the favor, she invited Stephanie over to her place.

Stephanie Kelln: Her new place was this gorgeous penthouse apartment in this really upscale place. I walk into her new apartment and there's all my stuff, my couch, my coffee table, my dishes, my silverware, all the stuff that she had said had been in storage. I said, "Oh, that's my couch." And she said, "Oh, the storage unit just got too expensive. I decided to sell my couch and just use yours. You had a nicer couch than I did anyway." Then I laughed it off. And then she served me dinner and I remember just laughing, "Oh wow, these are my plates." And she goes, "I know, aren't they nice?" We just had a good laugh about it.

Shankar Vedantam: At one point in the evening, Stephanie told Kim she needed to use the bathroom.

Stephanie Kelln: It was an apartment where the only bathroom was through her bedroom. So then she is showing me to the bathroom and I look on her dresser and there's my jewelry box. This was jewelry that she had been keeping safe for me since my first hospitalization in July 2009. I hadn't questioned what she had done with that jewelry, where it had gone, I just trusted that it was safe. It was at that moment that something started niggling at me.

Shankar Vedantam: When Stephanie went back into the kitchen, she played it cool.

Stephanie Kelln: I go, "Oh yeah, by the way, can I get that jewelry back?" And she tells me, "Oh yeah, it's in the safety deposit box. I'll get it back to you as soon as I can."

Shankar Vedantam: When we come back, Stephanie has to decide if the friend she knows and loves might also be a thief. You're listening to Hidden Brain. I'mShankar Vedantam. This is Hidden Brain, I'mShankar Vedantam. There are times in our lives when seeing the world in black and white is essential. When you're drowning and someone throws you a lifeline, you don't stop to assess your rescue's motives, you grab onto the rope. For more than a year, Kim had been Stephanie Kelln's rescuer. She helped Stephanie stay sober and to peel back the layers of trauma that she had experienced. She was a pseudo parent and a one woman support system.

Shankar Vedantam: When Stephanie was in crisis, there was only one Kim that she could see, Kim the savior. But when she went to Kim's apartment and saw that her friend was using all her things, she realized there might be another side to Kim. Stephanie felt uneasy but tried to push away her concerns. She wanted to buy Kim's story of how Stephanie's couch and dinner plates ended up in Kim's penthouse apartment. There had to be some innocent explanation for why Stephanie's jewelry box had ended up in Kim's bedroom. A day or two later, Stephanie fired up her computer and checked her bank account. Kim had access to all her financial information.

Stephanie Kelln: I look at my bank account and it's gone, the $20,000, all of my alimony checks that I'd been receiving for the last year, gone. My checking account was at zero. I was just dumbfounded, what the heck? Where is my money?

Shankar Vedantam: Her first thought, someone at her bank had made a mistake.

Stephanie Kelln: I go into the bank and I tell them, "What is going on? Where's my money?" And the lady said, "It was all withdrawn by you, these checks were all signed by you, it's all legitimate." And I tell her, "This wasn't me." The banker goes, "Have you checked your credit?" Which is not something I'd ever thought of. I look at my credit, the first thing I notice is that there's my name at the top of the list with Kim's new address under my name. Then the next item is a credit check from that upscale apartment requesting my credit, not Kim's credit, but Stephanie's credit check for that apartment. Next item is a car loan for the same make and model of car that Kim had just shown me not two days before as her new car.

Shankar Vedantam: What went through your head at that point, Stephanie? As the pieces started to fall together, describe that moment of epiphany for me.

Stephanie Kelln: Disbelief, just utter absolute surrealism, this feeling like I am no longer in my life, I am in a movie. They're going to jump out and say candid camera at any minute now. This is not what happens. People don't save your life and then steal your identity. This isn't possible.

Shankar Vedantam: This is impossible. Stephanie's mind was fighting to keep the new picture of Kim at bay. She wanted to hold onto the picture she loved, the Kim who answered her calls in the middle of the night, who checked up on her when she didn't show up at AA meetings, the Kim who literally swooped in and saved her life. This other Kim, no, she didn't want to see her. But like that image created by Edgar Rubin, the other Kim kept popping up. It was there in her bank statements, the credit reports, the car loan in black and white.

Stephanie Kelln: So I called her, I called Kim that same day, she picked up and I say, "What's going on, Kim?" She immediately said something about, "Oh my goodness. Yeah, let's talk about this. But I'm stepping into something, I got to let you go." And hung up.

Shankar Vedantam: For the next few days, the two pictures of Kim battle for dominance inside Stephanie's head. She wanted to believe the best about her friend but she also wanted to face the facts. So when she didn't hear back from Kim, she emailed her very politely to say that they needed to talk. Stephanie read the email for us and we had a voice actor read Kim's response.

Stephanie Kelln: Monday 11th, 2010 at 8:24 AM. Kim. I understand that you would be hesitant to meet with me to discuss everything. This situation needs to reach a resolution soon.

Voice Actor as Kim: Monday, October 11th, 2010, 8:40 AM. Stephanie. I can only guess how upset you are. And I am prepared to do what it takes to take care of this the best I can.

Stephanie Kelln: Monday, October 11th 2010, 3:35 PM. Kim, I sent this to you in a text but also wanted to elaborate in email. My biggest concern right now is the apparent lack of honesty and the feeling of not being able to trust anything. Please send me a text, email, or phone call with a time and place for Wednesday and I will be happy to meet you there. Thank you, Stephanie.

Shankar Vedantam: Kim didn't write back. In Stephanie's mind, the picture of the Kim who had stolen her identity was now becoming easier to see than the Kim who had saved her life. That night, Stephanie sat outside on her balcony. She smoked late into the night, just like she had done with Kim countless times.

Stephanie Kelln: I actually sat there thinking of human nature, not necessarily of Kim, but of people. I thought of some of the things I had done while I was drinking that I wasn't proud of, some of the ways I could have hurt people, some of the ways I did hurt people, and how I was trying to be a better person. I thought of how we as humans can have equal capacity for harm and good. And this was the epiphany I had, the harm didn't negate the good but the good did not excuse the harm. I realized that I could hold both. Humans can do immense harm to each other and humans can do immense good to each other. She saved my life and that was unarguable, but it didn't give her the right to then steal my identity and my money and my possessions. At the same time, she stole my identity but that didn't take away the good that she had saved my life.

Shankar Vedantam: Seeing the world through the lens of integrative complexity is hard, many people fear it will make them indecisive. But that was not Stephanie's experience. Being able to see the different sides of Kim, being able to see them simultaneously unparalyzed her. It had taken an act of will to see both sides of her friend. But when she did, she was impelled to take action, she called the police. Now, emotionally, there was still a part of her that recoiled against doing this, that sought to snap her back into seeing Kim one dimensionally.

Stephanie Kelln: I felt like I was betraying her, after all she had done for me, I was doing this. And here I was telling the police and the courts and everybody these bad things that had happened in my life. And something in my gut was telling me, this is wrong, you shouldn't be doing this. But at that time, I also had that other side of me to say, "Yes, you should be doing this, it's okay. You shouldn't be treated this way. It's okay to move on, it's okay to tell people what's happening, it's okay to demand that you be treated better." And that's what propelled me forward.

Shankar Vedantam: After that, things moved quickly. Stephanie visited the bank and the apartment complex where Kim had used her name for a credit check. She told them Kim had stolen her identity. Soon after, the police repossessed Kim's new car. Finally, Kim emailed her. It was a long message and we've pulled excerpts from it.

Voice Actor as Kim: Friday, October 15th, 2010, 4:07 AM. Stephanie, this is possibly one of the hardest letters I have ever had to write. Please know that it was never my intention to hurt you. At first, I was only paying the bills you had asked me to pay and using your card for shipping costs to send you things. Quickly however, it turned into using the card to take care of things I thought I needed to take care of for myself. As I look back on it now, it was stealing no matter what I thought at the time. When I started looking for a new place to live, I found quickly that due to my bad financial decisions in the past, I didn't have the credit to get an apartment on my own, so I put you on the application as a co-signer. When the car I had broke down, I again used your credit to acquire a loan on a new car thinking I would make the payments on it until I could just pay it off in full. I don't really know what I was thinking. My dishonesty in these matters to myself and others is beyond comprehension. I didn't think about how I might hurt you, I just kept justifying or lying about how I just needed help for a little bit, and this was the only way I could get it. I know that forgiveness is out of the question, and that is not what I am expecting here. I hope you know that I am trying to mend the damage I have done. I am very scared but prepared to take full responsibility where I need to.

Shankar Vedantam: We reached out to Kim and left phone and social media messages seeking an interview but she never responded. In the end, she was arrested and charged with theft, forgery, and identity theft. She pleaded guilty to the charge of theft. Seven months later, Stephanie was invited to appear at Kim's sentencing, it was May 2011. The courthouse was on the same street as a bar where Stephanie used to drink until she blacked out and the same street as the diner where she would often grab a late night snack with Kim in an effort to stay sober. Stephanie sat on the hardwood bench in the back row of the courtroom. The giant set of double doors opened, Kim walked in.

Stephanie Kelln: There was Kim, I hadn't seen her in over a year. She wouldn't meet my eye and she was standing with her head down and her shoulders hunched. And the glamor that I'd seen and the charisma that... By this time it had been two years since I had first met her. And there she was, she was just a broken person. The judge looks at me, she told me, "You will be awarded compensation of $21,000 for the cash that she stole from your bank account." Is there anything else you would like compensated? I felt a roar of anger and hurt about how this woman had treated me. And at the same time, that roar of anger was calmed by a feeling of utter peace. And standing there in the box, all of a sudden all these feelings just roared up the anger, but the compassion and the peace and the resentment all at once in my heart just melted because had I had her life, I cannot say that I would've acted differently. I cannot say that had I been through the trauma that she had been through I wouldn't have treated people that way. Because I don't know. I had been through my trauma and I had made my choices that were caused by the trauma I had endured and what trauma had she endured? What trauma had she endured? And that was how when the judge looked at me and said, "Is there anything else you want to say to Kim?" I found myself saying, "I only hope that she can find peace." And that was 10 years ago and I've had peace about her this whole time. I've never felt any resentment or bitterness or I've been saved from wanting revenge, I've been saved from harboring that bitterness for her and toward her, and I just feel peace and that's all.

Shankar Vedantam: Kim was ordered to pay restitution and given three years probation, but she ended up violating the probation and spent some time behind bars. After the sentencing, Stephanie was able to find a new AA mentor and she met her now husband. They've been together for 10 years and have two children together. She's been sober that whole time. At a time when social media and our political climate push us to see people and issues in black and white terms, as enemies or allies, integrative complexity invites us to take a more expansive view of the world. It asks us to exercise humility, to see that the way we perceive things might not be the only way to perceive things. Seeing the world with greater integrative complexity has the potential to reduce animosity. And as Stephanie found, it can promote compassion toward others and toward ourselves. In seeing the different faces of Kim and being able to hold them all simultaneously in her mind, Stephanie was able to see the multitudes within herself. She wasn't just good Stephanie or bad Stephanie, she wasn't just the helpless friend in the grip of addiction or only a victim whose identity was stolen, she was Stephanie the teacher, the recovering alcoholic, the pianist, the friend, and the survivor

Shankar Vedantam: Hidden Brain is produced by a Hidden Brain Media. Our production team includes Brigid McCarthy, Ryan Katz, Kristin Wong, Laura Kwerel, Autumn Barnes, and Andrew Chadwick, Tara Boyle is our executive producer. I'm Hidden Brain's executive editor. Voice acting for this episode by Lizza Goodstein. If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK that's 1-800-273-8255. Many nations have suicide prevention hotlines. So if you live outside the United States and need help, please call the one in your home country or talk to a friend, a parent, or a counselor. Our unsung hero today is Jason Saldana. Jason heads, business development and content at PRX, a public media network. I've spoken to Jason many times over the past year as we launched our new production company. He has an extraordinary capacity for integrative complexity. Unsurprisingly, Jason is not only one of the smartest people I know, but one of the most empathetic. Thank you, Jason. If you like this episode, if our work has been meaningful to you, please consider supporting us. You can help by going to Every time we see someone stepping up to help, it gives us a little boost. Again, that I'mShankar Vedantam, see you soon.


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