I have been thinking lately about how well we might know others, and also let others know us. Just as a disclaimer, I want to make clear that I am not a psychologist, I didn’t go to college or grad school, and there are no letters at all behind my name. But I read a lot about this kind of thing because it interests me deeply, and I believe I have learned a lot about it.
A guy I used to work with once said that everyone has 3 faces – the one they show to acquaintances and the bigger world, the second they show only to their closest loved ones, and the third (real one) known only to themselves. Al-Anon lore says we should avoid comparing our “insides” to other peoples “outsides”. And we do that, don’t we…compare our unseen innards to the visible, outer shells of those around us? Does it make any sense?
No one can really know another person completely, because all of us live inside our own heads to a large extent. I’ve thought a lot about this and I believe it may be pretty close to the truth. We can really only guess at what someone else’s motivations might be and many times, I suspect that what we guess at and think we are responding to is not at all accurate. Part of this is because everyone operates from behind (the shield/mask of) their own ego, which listens to what is said and then (mis)interprets it (I have found the writings of author Eckhart Tolle on the ego to be spot-on and literally life changing).
Part of it comes down to semantics; certain words have different emotional overtones that define their meaning to an individual. Part of it, I’m sure at least for me, is sloppy word choice. My thoughts race (especially at certain times) and I quickly go to my brain when I am speaking to find the right words, sometimes grabbing a word that is not even close to the best one to express what my actual thought is at the moment. To further complicate things, we take what others give us in the form of words and actions and fill in the abundant blanks with the byproducts of our egos… fear and self doubt, thereby producing a fundamentally flawed perception of our world.
Many times I find that others misunderstand me. I say something that I intend to communicate a certain idea to someone, and from their response, I can tell that they think I was saying something else entirely. Yet, it would be exhausting if I tried to correct every such exchange, plus I’d be talking way too much and I guess that others would think I was a huge boor and start avoiding me.
So how then can we ever hope to know each other as we really are, to any degree at all? I think the only way is to try to listen to others not so much with our brains, but more so with our hearts. If we can observe how someone lives and attend to the things they do, rather than just to that face they show us and also try to slow down and choose our own words more carefully, we might get closer to real communication. I’ve been trying to do that. It helps, but even so, my perception is not always going to be correct. Still, it may be the best we can do with our human limitations.