Last month I learned something new about myself.
Having wrestled with mental health issues for 40-odd years, Iâ€™m always fine-tuning the way I manage them. During a particularly low time last month, I happened to spend a delightful weekend at a fun event with friends. Then I took Monday afternoon off to go skiing. Lo and behold, I felt better.
I am now referring to this as â€œturning on the cut-loose full blast.â€ (Perhaps â€œopening a can oâ€™ cut-looseâ€ sounds better. Open to suggestions here.)
What baffles me about this is my age. Itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m 23 and learning all kinds of things about myself. Iâ€™m middle-aged by anyoneâ€™s definition. And Iâ€™ve spent decades digging around in my psyche.
Bottom line, I know myself wellâ€”and I donâ€™t.
This tells me that our self-images are always incomplete, constantly in process (to a greater or lesser extent). Sometimes we change and our self-images are slow to catch up. Sometimes our self-images are inaccurate from the get-go. Whatever the case, thereâ€™s value in remaining open to â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ even when the topic is our very own selves.
This goes double for other people. We build images of others almost without thinking. If someone tells me x about you, that can influence my thinking. While reading something you wrote, I pick up messages that mayâ€”or may notâ€”reflect who you essentially are.
Then I meet you, and the fun begins. Quite naturally, I filter what you say through my image of you. But what if my image is inaccurate? That means Iâ€™m not really hearing what you say. And we canâ€™t have a serious dialogue if we canâ€™t hear each other.
Iâ€™ve written about the value of laying aside oneâ€™s preconceptions to come to dialogue â€œemptyâ€: free of filters and assumptions and ready to listen with full attention. This, I think, applies to our self-images and our other-images too. By admitting I donâ€™t know you inside and out, I free myself to listen deeply. By admitting I donâ€™t know myself inside and out, I make room for your words to bring parts of myselfâ€”even unknown partsâ€”to the surface.
My father-in-law quotes T. S. Eliot as writing, â€œEach time we meet, we are strangers.â€ By holding that thought in our dialogue, we allow ourselves to hear each other afresh.
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