Those We Do Not See

Stop for a moment and consider that no one will ever know you. There is only knowing their perception of you. The self-concept we carry around is based on an understanding, however flawed, of our own rich, inner landscape. Our thoughts and aspirations, our personal struggles, the generous advocate and scathing critic. That is who we know ourselves to be. Others do not see that. They have their own mental model (also flawed and incomplete) of who you are based on a limited set of interactions where the only available signals are your words and actions.

We don’t see ourselves as we are. Our outer expression is largely invisible to us. Are we friendly and kind? Aloof and cold? Small cues and actions form a projection of our inner state. If we’re good at self-monitoring, we can influence that projection, but we can’t control it outright. How do you want to be perceived? What state are you inhabiting? Because a mismatch between those two is going to make you wonder why people have the wrong idea about you. Actions matter more than what you think and say.

We do not see others as they are. Just as others don’t see us as we perceive ourselves, we can’t know them either. We encounter only their projection. We can be deceived by liars just as easily as we can misunderstand the saints. Trust can be difficult. Especially when we carry the scars of when it failed us before. Even so, we make do, connecting with colleagues, acquaintances, friends, companions, and lovers while hoping we know them well enough.

We do not see those that shaped us. Our parents, grandparents, friends, siblings and peers are all with us. So are the marketers, song-makers, writers, teachers and a myriad of other strangers that had a hand in our formation. They are all part of the voice in our head. The one that speaks to us at our highest and our lowest. All the judging of ourselves that we do internally and the absolution we grant are an echo of those that we learned from, grew up with and listened to. We internalize so much and believe it us.

We do not see those that made our world. Behind us through the long lines of history stand the billions of people that came before us. Industrialists, soldiers, abolitionists, scientists, explorers, thinkers, farmers and hunters back through thousands of generations. Our lives are not perfect, but we lose sight of just how fortunate we are.

We do not see those that share our time here. There are billions of other humans out there. The most social of us will probably meet fewer than 100,000 in our lifetime. This is smaller than a rounding error. So many stories we will never know about lives in distant lands and even those closer to home. Yet we are all connected. Our decisions ripple out through the vast sea of people and touch other lives in small ways. What we buy, how we eat, where we shop, all these things reach across the global network of diplomacy, trade, and industry in ways that benefit or harm the worlds of other people. Their actions and choices impact us as well, though there is a dampening effect based on the relative power dynamics of the countries involved.

We do not see those that will inherit our legacy. We will know our children, and perhaps our grandchildren. We will meet many people that will live on when we are gone. But there are countless more that we will never meet. For better or worse, they will live with our choices and actions. Are we leaving them better off or worse by what we do?

We do not see ourselves. Not our complete being. That person you think about when you see yourself in the mirror, that is a small part of you. The part that can verbalize. The consciousness that moves through the world. We are more than that. There are depths to us that we scarcely know. Light, darkness, and animalistic instincts and urges that our higher selves would find terrifying. We see none of it because the storyteller that is our mind can only interpret simple details through all the complex noise.

In the final accounting, we are half-blind pinpoints of need and loneliness attempting to connect across an ocean of time and space. We see more inward than outward, barely knowing ourselves as we struggle to understand others. We may not know them, but we hear them always. Whether voices of conformity, judgment, love or support, they echo in our heads and we think them our own. Yet we strive. Just because we do not see, it does not mean we cannot love or appreciate. We connect deeply with those that matter and endeavor to elevate the good voices above the bad. To be kind and giving of ourselves to those we share our lives with. To be vulnerable and trust that even as we can never know their innermost thoughts, they are worthy all the same.