Sunday, January 30, 2005

faltering solipsism

In an effort become a more normal human being, I've been putting some energy into being moderately social. Really, I shouldn't take credit for this; I'm not so much putting effort into making anything happen, as I am putting less effort into preventing it. The realization that's become the core of the entire experience is that I don't have a firm understanding of the minds of others.

A couple weeks ago, I was hanging out with a few guys who went to college with my brother. One of them sometimes reads this blog, and thus knows just as well as you do what a nutcase I am. He's extremely externally focused, which obviously contrasts my overly-introspective nature. Numerous times throughout the night, he'd explain to me his perspective on the experience. Like a young child, excitedly showing a friend his favorite toy, he'd turn to me and explain everyone's role in the social dynamic, and would also explain why he enjoyed being around them. For one night, I was able to experience an interactive environment through his eyes, and I thus gained a strong appreciation for his perspective.

Somewhere along the way, I managed to forget that every person is unique and individually complex. My understanding of humanity had been simplified to the point that I could apply any person to a formula, and assume that I had him pegged. I'm not sure if this came about because of fear, or because I put greater focus on deciphering other aspects of the human experience, but for whatever reason, it happened. It's likely that I did this to feel more secure... it's hard enough to navigate through life when everyone else's actions and motives are predictably patterned, but when each person is seen as complex, there are just too many variables in play. The fact is that others can be figured out to a certain degree of accuracy, but when you forget that they won't perfectly adhere to the simplified formula that you've created, you forget about the beauty of their individuality. Now that I remember that each individual is interesting... that every person has a story, I'm drawn to discover what I'm not seeing on the surface.

Here's the main thing though.... I've always felt distinct from the rest of humanity. I've lived as an observer and narrator... to truly observe and understand the world around you, you have to gain a sense of separation between it and you. When this sense of distinction becomes overly developed, you forget that you have an impact on the world that you're observing. When I'm sitting in a room with a group of people, even when attempting to participate with the conversation, it never crosses my mind that my words will have an impact on anyone else in the room. I'm seeing you in terms of a simplified psychological formula, that doesn't factor myself into the equation. I never think that another might have significant thoughts or feelings toward me, and I'm blown away each and every time that I hear that another is affected in any way by anything that I've said or done. If I'm prodding you for information so that I can have a better understanding of who you are, it doesn't hit me that in so doing, I'm having an effect on who you are... that the very experience of our conversation will be one of the things that will shape and mold you as a person. In a room full of people, it never strikes me that I'm one of the people in that room... it's always been two groups in the room.... a bunch of people and me.

I'm beginning to see the other side of things now. I don't know your minds, especially when I haven't tried to discover who you are, and the fact that I don't know you makes me want to. I'm also beginning to see that I'm part of this whole thing... and that my actions can be significant to others. This directly removes much of the comfort that I found in life, but it also removes a great deal of the futility that I saw in it (from this perspective anyway... the futility of action and existence is a deeper philosophical issue). I'm not sure where this new perspective will lead me, but I'm curious to find out.