It is safe to assume that everyone is familiar with the philosophical mandate to “know thyself.” What is seemingly a simplistic and easily achievable direction turns out to not be that way. Identifying who you are and why you are the way you are is a process that takes years. It may even take stepping aside from that mandate and answering another: “know thy kind”.
I find that my struggles have less to do with the reality of me than they do with my perception of others to include my perception of how they perceive me, which brings us back to me as the source of my own problems. Because in a certain sense self awareness *IS* easy. Conclusions can be drawn about things pertaining to one’s self comparatively easily because we have all the facts available. While we may delude ourselves for a time, if we’re seeking the truth about ourselves we will eventually come clean. But to know our kind, or to put it another way, to know others, is another proposition entirely.
One of the first conclusions that I can draw is that in many ways other people are exactly like me. It seems that most people probably assume that people are like them in most ways. As an example, people who lie generally have trouble trusting other people. Obviously, just because someone has trust issues that doesn’t mean you can simply assume they are a liar, but it is worth making such observations about people. So in a certain way the way that I see you is as a reflection of myself, just as you see me as a reflection of yourself. It would be nigh impossible for either of us to perceive the other as we are.
My thoughts on this were sparked by a talk given by Aaron Weiss. The thing that I like about his speaking, and also his lyrics, is that he has this ability to be so honest about who he is that it causes me to see who I am. He spoke of our perception of love versus I guess the reality of love… if you believe in God then you might say the sort of love that we believe God has. I’m too lazy to go back through the video to get the exact quote, but to paraphrase him, we treat love like a business transaction. You can watch it yourself if you want: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_EJZZHVKhI (the audio is terrible, but I promise it’s worth it).
He further elaborates that to us love isn’t really something that is selfless and unconditional. The thing that we call love is almost entirely based on selfishness. This is the case in both the love you have for a friend as well as romantic love. If you are my friend, I love you because of the things you do for me, or because you are pleasurable to be around, or because you are nice for me. If you were mean to me, or if you were miserable to be around, I don’t think I would have love for you. And it’s the same with romantic love, and it’s why so many relationships end in crushing depression. We all want love but none of us seem to have any idea what in the hell that means.
And so there is this game that we play, where we use that part of which we know to try to make people love us. And, at least for me, I can only assume for you, it all based on this obsessive need to have this thing called love. But if it’s based on how that person makes me feel, and on how I make them feel, or on what we do for each other, or us generally being nice to each other, that’s not going to be enough. The thing is, when I heard Aaron Weiss say that, I thought what I have to assume you are thinking: “well that’s not love!” But then, as I tried to mentally formulate a rebuttal as to why he was wrong, nothing really came to mind. I can choose to love someone in the sense that I can choose to do 2/3 of that list, even when the first third, the feeling, isn’t there. But I’m just not sure that is real love. But I lack any other definition.
So I put expectations on people. If I buy you a drink I expect to be thanked. Perhaps if I go on a certain number of dates and do the right things I expect reciprocation. If I do something nice for you, I expect that you will later do something nice for me. I don’t think I’m saying anything here that isn’t true about everyone.
There are things that I do or don’t do based on how I believe that you see me. I probably act differently around you than I do around someone else. When I think about it, the anxiety I feel in large groups probably mostly has to do with me not being able to figure out how I should be when I’m around person x, person y, and person z. And none of this is conscious. I don’t intentionally act differently, but at the same time, I know that I *DO* act differently.
My next thought is of why I think that is. The answer is that I think you’re better than me. I really do, almost regardless of who you are (yeah, I could probably think of a few people who I don’t think that about). The reason why I think that is pretty simple… I know all the bad shit about me that I wouldn’t want anyone to know. And well, generally speaking, I don’t know any of that about you. Just like I put my best foot forward in social interactions, so, I must assume, do you. And yet I seem to assume that I am somehow special and I’m the only one with that going on as I interact with people.
There’s a line in the song “Messes of Men” that goes “I’d never want someone so crass as to want someone like me.” Now that is a line that I can connect with. But I guess the real truth is that we’re all a mess, we’re all crass.
And so I wonder if love really has something to do with truly understanding each other… with somehow overcoming any distance between us. One of Jesus’ prayers was for us to “become one”. And it’s my view that he was speaking of something a bit deeper than agreeing on theology, and I don’t think there’s any danger of complete theological agreement happening any time soon. Another Biblical usage of this idea of oneness is presented for a man and a woman in marriage, and so it does seem to be connected to love. Perhaps seeing each other as reflections isn’t quite right, perhaps the lines should be blurred just a bit more, until we can’t tell us apart.