Knowing Each Other Well

by Kenneth L. Stewart, Ph.D.  

Its hard to know each other. I mean to know them well.
Even those close to us. We can live with someone all

our lives and not know them completely. Yet somehow

this simple truth eludes us. We expect that just by

living together with another person we should know

them. But its never so. We watch, listen, observe

closely. But what is going on in their thoughts, in their

imagination, their dreams and nightmares eludes us.

So we do what is second best, we make up stories.

We observe the behavior of those close to us- our

husbands and wives, our sons and daughters, and our

mothers and father - and try as we might, who they

are at some level remains a mystery.

Even when another confesses to us and appears to tell us everything on their minds and in their hearts, we still don't have the full picture. We just can't tell all about ourselves, and we certainly can't know all about the other. So, between the gaps of our knowledge we fill in pieces of speculation, pieces of imagination to put together a story that make sense. And, once we have constructed such a story, after all that work, we become reluctant to let go of it when the evidence says otherwise. After all the work we go through to try to make sense of someone through the stories we hear, and the stories we make up to ourselves, like any work of art of our own creation, we are reluctant to change it. My mind's made up, don't confuse me with the facts.

It behooves us, if we want intimacy, if we want to understand and to be understood, to engage in regular practices of curiosity. We do this by showing genuine interest in the other. We take our interest and try as best we can to avoid assumptions, rushes to judgment, premature certainty. We try to operate in a spirit of discovery. We avoid the arrogant notion that we "know" the other, we hold our certainty in check, and we ask open-ended questions that inform us, instead of close-ended questions that confirm our suspicions. Each of us goes out into the world each day, has experiences and is affected by those experiences, and returns home subtly or greatly transformed. We are not the same each evening. Learning about those changes can be enlightening to us. And each of us has learned some things and consequently knows some things from our experiences. So, we can be curious what the other knows or we can just go with what we think we already know about the other, and not learn anything new. We just continue looking in the mirror and assume that's enough.

The gaps in our knowledge always haunt us. But, we can take some comfort in the idea that we can love someone completely without complete understanding. We can exercise our curiosity, we can seek to continually be informed, but we will always fall short of complete understanding. This much we can know. It will have to do.

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