Do We Know Each Other?


We often know far less about the people in our lives than we believe we do.

Which I suppose is something of a shame, since it's not as if we lack the capacity to really know each other.

But to concentrate our empathic receptivity on their truth is to necessarily suspend the antsy incessancy of our inner self-referential monologues. And for the vast majority of us, there's nothing else we prefer to do than think about ourselves from every angle. It's usually not even a conscious choice to navel-gaze all our waking hours… whether to replay events from the past (bathing in our smug satisfaction, rubbing our wounds raw again, or wistfully wondering what we could've done differently) or to worry about potential futures (planning and replanning our every move, having imaginary conversations in our head, running through worst-case scenarios or assuming the best has already happened). It's just what we do, if we have not spent large amounts of effort learning to tame the wild monkey mind.

Without first taking the time to actively adjust our focus, this is the lens through which we view everything—including all other people, whether it be our one most beloved or the stranger standing in front of us in line. We see them for what we wish them to be or fear that they are. We interpret their words and actions based upon what they said or did to us in the past, or what they might someday say or do if we do not properly steel ourselves in preparation. In our eyes, they become that image we have projected onto them (and who isn't guilty of projecting?).

But that projection is not who they are. What we think we know so well is, in far too many instances, merely what we have concluded from our own biased observations. Are we conceited enough to believe we know them better than they do, from our undeniably subjective stance?

Even when we set out to 'get to know' somebody better, to learn what's truly in their hearts and gain a deeper understanding of their specific emotional standpoint, our well-intentioned efforts are often impeded upon by our ego-desire to form this knowledge into imprecise concepts and judgments.

We sit down to talk… and maybe there are language problems, we bring different histories to certain phrases that trigger us, we get caught on semantic glitches, our listening skills are impaired by our need to already be readying a whip-smart reply, the truth is lost in translation, we can't articulate, we're fooling ourselves, we lie, or words can't do it justice.

Perhaps we rely on intuition to feel out the other person… and though we may legitimately intuit something, we too quickly extrapolate upon this fleeting knowledge (because whose feelings on a charged topic don't vary from moment to moment, complicated creatures that we are?), freezing into a misleading surety that our understanding is more comprehensive and lasting than it, in fact, is. (And intuition is hardly pure; the second it's being interpreted or analyzed, our ego-mind's desire to 'know' threatens to pollute the waters.)

Or we might falsely assume that they will let us know anything relevant there is to know about them—though so few of us have the high awareness level, the unwavering confidence and impeccable communication skills to cleanly do so—and so we simply keep on doing whatever we're doing, plainly (and willfully?) ignoring how it might intrude upon someone else's emotional well-being until it's brought to our attention (and oftentimes, not in a pleasant way).

We can do better with each other than that. Any of us possesses the ability. The first step is to approach with humility. Dismiss everything we think we know about another person. Assume nothing. Go from there.

When we're able to get out of our own way, to stop blocking sincere interpersonal receptivity with all our own preconceived notions, we can learn more about the people in our lives. As the practitioner of meditation toils in stillness to cut through the ego's noise toward a higher awareness, a conscious participant in relationships—with friend, with fling, with family member—is, with practice, able to silence the projections (or at least minimize their influence) and really see or hear or feel what's going on.

Behind all their seemingly cryptic behaviors, mean remarks and thoughtless attitudes, there always lurks a motivating emotion—the hurt, the hope, the sadness, the rage, the deep desire for acceptance and love. Sshhhh. Listen for it. No need to know anything about it. Just acknowledge it. Feel it. It ought to seem familiar.

You experience these same emotions, in differing amounts, spurred by your specific circumstances, expressed in your own style. Beneath the wide divergence of our human individuations, there are only a finite few emotional archetypes that underwrite all our lives.

On one hand, it may be hard to ever really 'know' another person, since we cannot burrow under their skins and live inside with them. Yet, on the other, we are all the same, on this base motivating level of archetypal emotion. We are one.

To feel this oneness is to live in compassion—and to radically dare ourselves to see other people as they really are, which is just like us, only different.