“Whenever two people meet there are really six people present. There is each man as he sees himself, each man as the other person sees him and each man as he really is.” William James
How in the world do we ever communicate honestly and clearly with one another? The exchange between those six is like playing a game of telephone instead of a conversation. The issue is image; how do we imagine ourselves, how do others imagine us and what is the underlying truth?
It is easy to drop two players right off the bat, the men as they really are. I have argued before that truth is in large part perception and acceptance of that perception with belief. Since there is a question about whose perception, perhaps both, define each man, the argument is confined to one’s perception of oneself versus the perceptions others hold. How astonishingly different those can be. In speaking with people I knew only from passing in the halls or a shared classroom in high school many years later, I was shocked to find many assumed me “stuck-up”. In fact I desperately wanted to fit in and had no idea how to go about it. Not wanting to say the wrong thing, I said little socially and clung to my very small group of friends. I saw myself as a misfit, an outsider, others viewed me as thinking I was too good for them.
Because I can talk a blue streak, especially when I am impassioned about the topic or very nervous, I always thought I gave the impression of being outgoing. Speaking with close friends on the topic I was told they thought me reserved! As I threw that word out to get the reaction of more friends and family I was again and again surprised that each thought the word apt. I did a little inventory for myself and realised that the way in which I am reserved is not with information or chatter, but emotionally. I would not have identified that as a trait prior to that process.
One of the great benefits derived from interpersonal communication is the opportunity to learn about oneself as well as the other person and the topic at hand. Beyond being mindful of the exchange, later reflection in light of our reactions and responses may offer some insight into ourselves and the person others see. And if the chance to start a conversation about how one is viewed presents itself, take the risk. It can be frightening to ask for a critique, but even one’s harshest critics will most often withhold hurtful comments; even if a trait is deemed negative, if shared with compassion can help one to see the outer self.
Allowing others to see us as we are and to understand how our actions and words seem to others is another step in wholeness and the integrity of the spirit. The more consistently we represent ourselves, the greater the opportunity for deep and lasting relationships based on the clearest picture one can offer of the inner self.