Friday, 6 November 2009

How do you know someone?

How do you know when you know someone? How do you tell? There are just so many ways of knowing people.

Sometimes I feel like I barely know some of my friends. I know nothing about their past, or in some cases (actually, more cases than is probably right) even what they've been up to lately. But I can tell you pretty much everything they like and dislike, their opinions on many matters, or predict what their response will be in just about any situation.

Other people are the exact opposite. I can tell you everything about their life, but I feel like I barely know them.

And then there's that whole other issue of feelings. I can hardly ever figure out how people are feeling, unless of course they are displaying strong signs of emotion. I can totally figure out really excited or really happy or really sad or really angry. But for the more subtle things, I just can't seem to get in their heads and figure it out. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that everyone tells me they have a hard time reading me? I don't know.

Anyway. My point is. How do you know when you know someone? What is it? What defines "Yes, I know this person well and we are close friends!" (or very well-known enemies, as the case may be) as opposed to "I know some stuff about this person but we are really just acquaintances!" Sometimes I have a hard time telling.

And then I guess there are also other times, where it's like "I know nothing about this person's life and I don't really know anything about their thoughts or feelings, but we've had some shared experiences that were a pretty good time, so I feel like I know them anyway." What's the deal?

I'm involved with a society at King's called the Memoir Project (mayhaps I will write more about that later). Part of it involved a writing workshop from a couple of the Journalism professors. One of them was talking about the way we know people in different contexts, which I found a very interesting idea. That we only know someone in their context as "so-and-so the friend" or "so-and-so the student" or "so-and-so the shy person at the back of the room," but they all have these other contexts that we don't know them in, like "so-and-so the daughter" or "so-and-so the employee" or "so-and-so the soccer player" or whatever the case may be. You know?

How can you possibly know someone in all of their contexts? It seems like you would have to be awfully involved in their life to know all the facets of them. And once you know them in one context, how can you break out of that to be able to see them in all those other, different contexts, without having that one interfere? I guess ideally you would want to merge all those different contexts and know them as one complete whole, from all the different angles. But I have to question the extent to which that is even possible.


Masked Mom said...

I think about this all the time--I live in a very small town and, gossip being the local pastime as in so many small towns, it is possible to know a lot about people without truly knowing them at all.

Something else I'm also (probably unhealthily) fascinated with is the gap between how we see ourselves and how others see us. Most of the time I know who I think I am but I wonder how differently everyone else sees me and which me is the real me, if such a thing even exists.

PS-There is a novel Surrender, Dorothy by Meg Wolitzer that kind of touches on the subject of people knowing people in different ways. It's a great read.

Masked Mom said...

PS--Just looked at your profile and saw Billy Joel listed under music you like. His song "The Stranger" was actually the first thing I thought of when I started reading this post, but didn't want to mention that because not everyone is a fan. Ok, I'll stop commenting before you think you're being stalked by some random blogger who wandered over here from NaBloPoMo.

gnomesque said...

Hmmm, I hadn't thought of "The Stranger," I haven't listened to it in a while, but now that you mention it, it does relate well!

And the "who I am" question is something I think about too. I'm taking a public speaking/anxiety reduction workshop, and we were talking the other day about why want to get our points across clearly and have people understand us the way we understand ourselves. I was talking and started going on about how I felt like I was misrepresenting myself there would be a "real-me" and a "fake-me"... and then I realized that I didn't know which is which, because surely our own identity can't come entirely from inside our heads. The you that you think is real can't be real if no one else knows it? At least part of your identity has to come from the way other people perceive you... but then if you don't know how they perceive you, how can you ever really know yourself?

It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks about these things! :)

~Ifer said...

I have to say that I honestly only know my husband on that level. There just isn't time in this world to fully know everyone we come in contact with.

And perhaps, just maybe, what they need from you is only one facet. Maybe they need you there to know how they are feeling. Maybe they need you there to know where they came from. Maybe they need you there to have shared experiences.

So maybe, just maybe, we are a little too hard on ourselves when we don't know someone fully.

Mitchell said...

This is called the Fundamental Attribution Error.

As we become acquainted with people they go from being archetypes (geek) to bundles of personality quirks (witty, good at badminton, eats play doh). We confuse these little character sketches with familiarity, but they actually make it harder to see peoples' behaviours in their own context.

So really, the best way to get to know someone is to surprise them!