Sunday, April 21, 2013
Do I Know You?
I used to stare at people and make assumptions about them. I’d look for clues in their looks, dress, or mannerisms and imagine their circumstances. I, of course, had no way to prove if these profiles were correct, but it didn’t matter. It was my way of comprehending the world around me.
I would examine them, in detail, at all times. In a classroom. On the street. In a store. On the bus or train. At a ballgame. Our imaginations fill in the word of not knowing. We seemingly have to operate under some kind of frame of mind, otherwise we wander aimlessly, with no anchor. If we don’t have a perception of the world, even a wrong one, we are reduced to living in confusion, uncertainty, or fear. We have to script a scenario that seems plausible to us.
But the other day I saw a man walk by me and a flood of thoughts came to me, forcing me to reflect on my earlier observations and assumptions. I realized I’d been using the wrong algorithm to figure people out. I now understood that I merely projected my thoughts or views onto another without realizing the many possibilities that went ignored.
What made me realize that my guessing games were faulty was the fact that I failed to take into consideration all of the dark options that exist.
Whereas I looked at someone and thought, oh, he’s on his way to work, maybe a lawyer, probably has a family, now I realized that the guy may be thinking about how to end an affair he is in, how to cheat on his taxes, how to take care of his elderly mother, how to deal with a colleague that he hates, etc. As a grownup, you understand the complexities and impurities that plague individuals. As a kid and teenager I simply didn’t understand or know from these things.
The man I saw the other day that awakened me to my past practice of making wrongful assumptions about people looked quiet, ordinary, even meek. But then I thought so many people do so many bad things. How do I know what evil looks like? Bad guys look like good guys. Some people give off negative vibes, so we avoid them, but many do not signal to us that they rape, steal, kill, hate, or act abusively. This guy triggered the thought that he could be a criminal, perhaps a raging lunatic, not because I observed hints of this in him, but because I did not.
All we have are our instincts to go by, but now I question if I have misread people to the point I have made some major mistakes.
People are not like crossword puzzles. All the rows and letters don’t add up neatly. We don’t have all the clues to accurately know who one is, what they are feeling or thinking, or what their current situation is. In some ways, I am glad to know there’s more mystery to people than I originally thought but I am also sad to understand I may never truly know anyone.
“The line between good and evil, hope and despair, does not divide the world between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It runs down the middle of every one of us. I do not want to talk about what you understand of this world. I want to know what you will do about it. I do not want to know what you hope. I want to know what you will work for. I do not want your sympathy for the needs of humanity. I want your muscle. As the wagon driver said when they came to a long hard hill, “Them that’s going on with us, get out and push. Them that ain’t, get out of the way.”
– It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It by Robert Fulghum
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2013