“I know who you are.”
Directed at me in anger, the statement takes me by surprise. By what form of clairvoyance, I wonder, did this person obtain such extensive insight into who I am, considering we’ve only had a handful of conversations in the past five years? I certainly don’t know him, so how is it that he knows me? The truth is, he doesn’t. The truth is, none of us really know ANYBODY.
Yesterday I wrote about judgment. Today, I realize that part of my judgment of people comes from the fact that I believe I know them. Especially if they’ve been in my life for a long time, I believe I have insight into their motivations and often assign blame for intentions that, in reality, I don’t know they actually have. Because the truth is that all I ever know about anyone are the parts of themselves they choose or are able to present to me. I am familiar with the Jon who lives in this house, the Jon who is my husband, the Jon who is the father of my children. But I know nothing of the Jon who shows up to work each day. I don’t know the conversations he has or the advice he gives or what kinds of things he laughs about. It’s very likely I would be surprised by that Jon. We’ve all experienced the thought about a loved one: “I can’t believe they did that!” These are the moments when what we think we know about someone runs dead into who they actually are.
Each of us exists in the minds of everyone we know as a different version of ourselves. In the minds of our friends, we may be outgoing and free-spirited while in the minds of our coworkers we are serious and hard-working. My best friend’s version of me might be caring and compassionate, while someone I have deeply wounded might see me as judgmental and hateful. We play the villain in some stories while in others we play the hero. Some of these versions are closer to the real truth of who we are than others, according to proximity and time spent together, but no one knows the fullness of who we are, which is, I think, why God says He judges the inside and not the outside.
I realize today, after hearing my loved one state so categorically that he knew who I was: I am guilty of the same mistake. I, also, assume that I know the people in my life, simply because they’ve been around for a while. I, also, assume I know their internal motivations simply because I have so often witnessed their external actions. I, also, assume the version I have of them in my mind is who they really are. And today I realize that any time I begin an internal dialog with the words “he just thinks…” or “she just wants…” or any other assumption about someone’s thoughts or motivations, I need to be very, very careful of the thoughts that follow. Because I DO NOT—AND CANNOT—KNOW what is going on within someone else’s heart. I might be able to take a good guess, depending on my level of interaction with them, but I can never be certain.
Our thoughts have consequences and we live the consequences of the stories we tell ourselves. We lock ourselves into certain mindsets by those stories, and can easily sabotage ourselves and our relationships. We can cast ourselves and others into the roles of victim or hero, oppressed or oppressor, villain or saint or martyr or warrior, and we get to keep those roles. No one is going to take them from us, and we will experience all the ramifications of those beliefs, and suffer or thrive accordingly. This experience reminded me that I must be very, very careful about making assumptions regarding someones internal state. Better not to make assumptions at all, but if I’m going to, I think a good rule of thumb is:
Don’t declare things as true unless they’re good for you.
That is, unless the outcome of my assumptions are greater understanding, compassion, and empathy–unless they take me to a place of peace and joy and love–it’s best not to use them as the building blocks with which to construct my worldview. It’s best to allow myself, as I mentioned yesterday (and also HERE), to live in the unknown and remember the advice a good friend once gave:
Just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.