Friday, November 16, 2012

How Well Can We Really Understand Another Person?


I’ve always had an incurable curiosity about people, constantly being fascinated by individual personalities, how we grow and evolve throughout our lives, and how much the perspective we have of the world defines us. Those of us that are readers, writers, filmmakers, storytellers, etc. are constantly thinking about these things from the standpoint of fictional characters. Having a deep understanding of people and characters is something that all truly great story tellers seem to share.

But if we move away from the world of fiction, and think about the real people we actually know, especially those who are closest to us, how well can we really understand each other? Personally, I think, that for even the best judges of human nature among us, the answer is not very well at all. People are complicated.

In most of our relationships we often only get to know one version of someone. We only know who they are when they are with us. There are so many other versions of them, in different times, in different places, with different people, that we will never know. We are also hindered in our ability to truly understand another person, by the fact that we tend to see them how we want them to be. It’s human nature. We are especially prone to do this in romantic relationships. I like the line in the book Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert where she says, “In desperate love, we always invent the characters of our partners, demanding they be what we need of them, and then feeling devastated when they refuse to perform the role we created in the first place.” It’s so true that we tend to create roles for people to play in our lives, and this ultimately limits our ability to understand who they truly are. Perhaps this is why we sometimes feel like certain strangers can see us more clearly than some of the people we have known for years. 

Another reason that understanding one other is so difficult is because people are always changing. People are constantly growing and evolving, sometimes gradually over time, and sometimes much more suddenly than we might think. It is often impossible for us to understand what is happening deep inside someone, and how that is impacting who they are, and who they will become.

One might say, if we can never really get to know each other, than what’s the point of even trying to get close to someone? But we must not forget that we don’t need to completely understand someone in order to love them, or be happy with them, or learn from them, or help them. There is a quote from a Philip Roth book that says, “Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride.” I think that there is some truth to this. Sometimes the best thing things in life, and in love, come when we learn to embrace the mystery. Maybe it’s okay to accept what we can’t understand and allow people to surprise us.

9 comments:

  1. Though there are times I would claim to disagree, I must admit I am the sort of person you describe here, and I believe in the realities which pertain to other people, as you have outlined here. To change, or progress as a person, is human, regardless of what you leave behind. Reinventing the love or character of another is depressing, true, but sincerity is rarely so exposed as it is in poetic memory and solitary inquisition.

    A book, a letter, a song, a picture...these are difficult things to ignore or avoid, and often times remind us of the version of a person which made the most sense. Dwelling on the past often makes for unnecessary questions, but the sincerity is often times too great to pass up.

    I thought this was a very insightful piece of writing, thanks for sharing.

    -T

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    1. Very true! Sometimes it's so hard to accept it when people change because we can become very attached to a certain version of someone.I love your comment and thought it was very insightful. Thanks!

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  2. Nicely put. I've pondered this subject quite a bit, usually in terms of how I'm behaving and how other people must perceive me as a result. The truth is that nobody can ever know as much about me as I do, just as I can't know them. We're all avatars of ourselves, projected into the world and interacting only with other avatars. It's not so different from being online really, except there are more senses involved. Occasionally we get to glimpse little samples of what somebody was really about, just for a moment, and I think that's what art is.

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    1. So true! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  3. I love your words about embracing the mystery in others! A thought provoking & soulful article : )

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  4. How well can we understand another? how well can we understand ourselves? As shadownose said, we're all avatars. More than that we're avatars to ourselves, we hide our darkness with illusioned illumination. We cover dark acts with bright motives, we self deceive and we're good at it because we know what we wish we were. All we can do is try to live up to the best others think they see in us, and watch for the darkness. I read a scientific article that suggested we make a decision subconsciously a few milliseconds before we think we made it consciously. Is our consciousness just a justification for our nature?

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  5. How well can we understand others? How well can we understand ourselves? As ShadowsNose put it "we're all Avatars", though not just to others. I think we create how we see ourselves, we cover our darkness with illusioned illumination, our dark acts with bright motives. Are we lying to ourselves? I have read scientific research with suggests we make decisions subconsciously milliseconds before we believe we make them consciously. Is it more the case that our lizard brain is allowing us to believe a lie? If all our conscious mind is there for is to justify our subconscious actions then how can we know ourselves, let alone hope to know another? Of course I could be and probably am wrong.

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  6. Isn't human nature fascinating- have you ever met some people you feel you can 'just be your natural self" with , and
    others, immediately- for no reason, - you are on guard- you just feel- not your natural self? thanks for sharing your thoughts-Eileen in Syracuse

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  7. I think God sent you to speak to me directly Kara. I am not often speechless but reading this I felt my self hear it not just with my head but with my heart as well.. Maybe this is what I needed in Oder to release the pain I am in currently so I can move on knowing that it is just that simple, People are complicated and I can not write a script for life!

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