What do we mean to eachother?
It's a question that can't help but plague each of us at least a little. There'll be periods of time when we don't really think about it much, but it's always there to come back to. What do other people think of us? Do the people we call friends genuinely care about us? Is there someone, or maybe everyone, who behind the typical smiles secretly can't stand us?
It's hard, because I'm convinced that it's exceedingly difficult to have accurate perceptions of what others think of us in the absence of straight and frank discussion of the topic. I mean, take me, for example. I'm not psychic, but I pride myself on generally being a pretty perceptive and insightful person when it comes to those around me. I feel like I typically have a pretty good understanding of how people feel about others. Between picking up on subtleties, and a semi-psychological semi-empathetic approach to how people think and feel, my impressions of certain peoples' feelings and thoughts about others are usually subsequently confirmed.
Yet I'm in large part clueless when it comes to how people feel about me. Oh, I continue to perceive things. But instead of piecing them into cohesive understandings, they'll bounce around in my head, creating uncertainty and doubt. I'll lack all perspective on things, focusing a particular instance in which someone sounded annoyed at me or thought I was ridiculous or looked at me like I was stupid, and it will take a very long time for the idea to fade that perhaps they see me as an inherently annoying or ridiculous or stupid person, and that these are glimpses of how they truly feel. The one exception is in the small handful of situations where people have had crushes on me; I'm good at picking up on those, but then again, they're rarely all that subtle. When subtlety's involved, throw my perception out the window.
And it's certainly not just me who has this sort of semi-blindness. Two particular examples have struck me recently: someone who feels unwelcome and uncared for in a group where my more objective eyes detect the opposite, and someone who is quite genuinely disliked by many and by one person in particular yet seems to have no inkling that this is the case (I'm talking about who you think I'm talking about; don't panic, it's not you!). I'm not sure either of these two realize that they can't judge this clearly, but for those of us who do understand how uncertain our perceptions are, it leads to an extremely unsettling feeling from time to time, which I know many are familiar with. (For those who don't understand, of course, it leads to either unnecessary anguish-- well, I suppose I end up with unneccessary anguish too, I just am anguished about the possible as opposed to a perceived certainty-- or wearing blinders to reality which will at some point lead to a very painful awakening to the truth.)
Of course, the problem is fed by the fact that we often tend to interact on a fairly superficial level. I will admit freely that there are people who I care very much about, and who I'd go way out of my way to help if they were having problems. Yet I never indicate anything of the sort to them, save occasionally if one of them actually reaches out, because that just doesn't fit into the patterns in which we traditionally interact. I think this is characteristic of a lot of the bonds we share. And so we can care deeply about someone, while they are unsure that we even like them at all.
Yes, my big project of late has been to stop relying and worrying so much on what others think of me. And I've been doing a pretty good job. These worries I've been discussing are a matter of curiousity to me, not something earth-shattering that gets to the core of my sense of self-worth. Yet I have a devil of a sense of curiousity, and as much as I'm moving beyond making others' opinions of me the center of what's important in life, I'm still damn curious. And the sense of uncertainty and insecurity is still unpleasant when it's on my mind.
Sometimes I wish that everybody that I know would just be honest with me about what they think about me. And I mean fully honest. If there are things people dislike about me, they'll surface at some point anyway, so I might as well be informed. I'm too perceptive for you to hide anything forever. And hey, if people really care about me, that's nice to know, too. I'd rather have some real rooted basis for the conjectures I'm inevitably bound to make about what people think of me than simmer endlessly in a muddle of doubt where each bit of evidence could be either circumstancial or central. I know I'm not alone in this situation.
Perhaps the absolute honesty I often crave isn't necessary, except in close relationships where the issues take on elevated importance, but I think we'd all be happier if we put our feelings about eachother out on the table a little more. It's worth the awkwardness of being sincere with someone you're not used to being sincere with. I'm going to try to do it more-- why don't you?
23 October, 2002
Intellectual Property Rights denounced by Britt Gordon-McKeon, 2002