The devil you know is still a devil

a resting Tasmanian devil
A resting Tasmanian devil


What really lies behind the preference for “the devil you know” versus “the devil you don’t know”? Is it fear? Is it laziness? Is it the purported enemy of love, indifference?

In any case, it boils down to familiarity. In my case, a time-earned degree of comfort with my everyday circumstances has led to a peeling away of façades and, ultimately, to overfamiliarity. While we’re on a roll with clichés in the English language (bonus points for spotting ones not in quotation marks), if “familiarity breeds contempt,” what then?

The mounds of literature on showing the “authentic self” often include a caveat about situation sensing and keeping certain impulses in check—there is no get-out-of-jail-free card for saying exactly what you think all the time. I would argue that the unfiltered self is not necessarily the authentic self, and if the intrinsic nature of human beings is “good,” then the authentic self should be, by default, the best self.

However, the physical laws that seek balance also tend to support the existence of things in binaries, and when one starts a relationship with a veneer that requires extra effort to maintain, the gradual normalization of interactions can eventually reveal the shadow of that effort. The cost has to be recouped somewhere.

  • Give ←→ take
  • Expectation ←→ disappointment
  • Idealism ←→ cynicism
  • and so on.


One of the pieces of advice I have received is to keep a tchotchke around that inspires daily motivation—something that reminds me why I do what I do. Naturally, I wanted to translate that into olfactory terms as well.

What I have found is that wearing a different perfume each day so that the unfamiliarity of the scent might prompt me to maintain a healthy outsider perspective in situations of reflex doesn’t work. The devil under it all has been exposed and cannot be unseen.


The good news is that an equal and opposite force, in whatever form, is always working to achieve equilibrium. We shouldn’t presume to know what that will look like.






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