“I can usually work people out,” he mused. “What their underlying motives and reasons are, what is really behind how they are. Can’t do it with myself though. Doesn’t matter how much I look… I never know if I am operating from a need to do, or to justify, or to hide something from myself…” He continued exploring the various permutations of reasoning and instinct that lie behind all our choices and actions. I had to agree, it is far easier to feel we can get to the bottom of someone else’s behaviour than it is to be certain of the reasons behind our own.
We had been talking about the nature of reality to begin with; how we each create our own vision of the world and its denizens which, once fixed, is almost impossible to change. As far as people are concerned, we make judgements or assessments of their character that are true for us, even if they are actually wildly inaccurate. Once we have made up our minds about someone it is rare that we change them very much.
It is easy to say we should not judge… and it is true. We cannot really judge others, especially for their decisions because we never know all the circumstances. It is hard to condemn a particular choice if you don’t know what their options were in the first place. But we judge regardless, and we dress it up in other terms … and it is part of the path to understanding.
But why, he wondered, was it so much easier to understand the minds of others than to really understand ourselves? Two things came up. Firstly, of course, we seldom understand more than a fragment of another person. Unless we know them very, very well, we form our opinions and base our understanding only on the facet of personality which that person shows to us. Our understanding may be true… or completely erroneous… for as the old saying goes, ‘we don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.’ However accurate our perception it is rarely more than fragmentary. We are not understanding a whole being, just the face that is turned towards us; the part of a person that impinges on our lives.
The second thought came directly from that one; the idea of a jigsaw puzzle. A child’s puzzle will have perhaps twelve pieces… very easy to piece them together to get the picture, even without reference to a guiding image. We are unlikely to get it wrong when working with so few pieces. Which equates nicely to how we form our understanding of others when we know only a fraction of all there is to know of them.
Tip a five thousand piece puzzle on the floor and it is a lot harder to work out where to begin, let alone to get the full picture to emerge… and if the picture that lies hidden consists largely of nice blue sky, then the task becomes even more onerous. We, of course, have all the pieces of ourselves to work with. Every scrap of memory, every thought and emotion, every interaction… and half of them probably look the same at first glance, as our lives are so full of habit and repetition. Add to that idea the realisation that there are many parts of ourselves we do not wish to see and it is as if we are trying to solve half the puzzle blindfolded.
When you look at it like that, it makes you realise what a monumental undertaking it is to accept the instruction that was carved above the portals of the temples of old…”Know Thyself.”