Is it possible to truly know another person? Can we know someone as well as we know ourselves? How much of ourselves can be kept hidden no matter how intimate we may be with others. I suggest that not only is it in my interest to be transparent, but in fact there is very little about me you do not know, and I possess as well a nearly complete picture in depth of you. How strange we often find ourselves to be ignorant of one another.
How is this possible? We think of ourselves as individuals with unique and characteristics. We imagine we “contain” a secret self, one that commits acts of which we are ashamed and possesses fantasies and unnshared desires. We mask ourselves with a personality that may be more or less at odds with the autonomous anonymous self that slides behind it. Maybe we think of that invisible “me” as an aspect of soul? So a strong case can be made that we are unknowable, Terra incognita to even our most precious lovers’ enduring and discerning eyes.
On the one of many other hands, I don’t believe that we are solitary souls dwelling in well defended bodily castles. First, we each know the most important facts about each other that dwarf any other subjective ones that may exist about each of us. This I know.We were each thrown into this world, to parents, family, society, and culture with genetic endowments, economic standing, and many other circumstances, all without any choice on our part. Also, each of our bodies is subject to aging, illness, injury, and, most importantly, death. I know this about you.
Secondly, as Buddha realized, and I know about myself and yes about you, we suffer due to our attachment to the belief consciously or not that we can avoid these absolute realities. I know that both you and I cling to a hope that enough learning or war or meditation or sex or health or happiness or math or music or wickedness or power or having can help us avoid the reality of the date expired time stamp of being human. Food can’t be fresh forever, except, perhaps, spirits.
I know that generally, even if we mean radically different things by the words, we prefer kindness to cruelty, beauty to ugliness, creation to destruction. Of course, the particular meanings we assign these terms matters greatly, but at least it’s a starting point for knowing by contrast.
There is a fun philosophical question we play when we ask if each of us sees the same “color” when we see or say “red.” In general, the answer is probably “close enough.” More importantly, I think, is that I know you most likely have and use a word “red” for a range of colors that you perceive. So we share color, music, movement, rhythm. I know so much about you.
I could know a great deal more based upon the demographic data, my buying preferences, the sort of stuff the internet harvests and sells. But it’s such a small portion of you, and I know we both might enjoy finding out about it in conversation by some means or other.
I also know you because we consume each other. To be erotic is to connect. There is good reason why to know and intercourse have meanings that are both sexual and interactive. The breath from my words and the light reflected off you to my eyes literally enters and changes me. The speed with which a spontaneous conversation between two strangers can spiral into a joyful dance of ideas demonstrates how much intuitive knowledge we share of each other. And, of course, no better universal language than the smile. I know more of you than you think, as you do me.