November 22, 2018 by Cláudia
I’m standing on the line at the groceries store, thinking about my day and trying to figure out the meaning of life when it suddenly hits me – all the people around me are people. Like me. They have a story, filled with events and experiences that have made them the way they are. Their minds are complex and racing with questions, sorrows, memories and plans for the future. They are experiencing all kind of thoughts right now that I, because I am not in their head, cannot even begin to grasp. I suddenly want to ask them all sorts of questions to try to understand what it feels like to be a person that is not me. What could they be thinking about right now? Why are they hurting? What gives meaning to their lives? Where are they going later? What was a defining moment in their path?
Every single person in the world is a person. This realization is both very obvious and very startling. We invariably live our lives from our own point of view. We look at things through our own eyes and our brains interpret the world according to our own personal frameworks. Unconsciously, I forget that people keep living their lives when I’m not around. Just as when I stop playing the Sims and they just stay exactly where they are waiting for me to continue the game. As if I was the only one making choices, progressing, having deep thoughts, in short, being human. As if I was the only person in the world and the rest of the world was just scenario, secondary characters and extras in the movie that is my own life.
It’s easy to get self-absorbed. To forget. Even about the people around me. Through my own eyes, I see what people do that hurt me. I see how people have failed me. But what are they seeing?
When my boyfriend is moody and I shut down, how does that make him feel? Hurt? Alone? Like no one understands him nor tries to? When my mom is telling me the same story over and over again and I groan “I’ve heard this!”, what emotions and thoughts go through her head?
I have to remind myself of this constantly – that other people around me have emotions, stories and thoughts just like me. That they are not perfect, just like me. That they sometimes don’t mean what they say. That sometimes they do things they don’t understand why. Like I do. Like I do all the time and expect people to understand what is going on in my head. This is very helpful in managing the relationship with others around me.
But it gets a lot more bizarre when I think about people I come across but don’t really know. People that are in the background. The extras. The scenario in my first-person movie. People who I’ll probably never meet or get to know. They are people too. And I know nothing about them. They are just empty masks to me. Holograms. Soulless bodies.
Yet, on rare occasions, I see them. At the subway, oppressed by a swarm of people, I get out of my egotistical mind for one second and stop to consider that there are so many others like me right next to me, mostly sitting in silence. I start thinking that everyone’s mind is racing with thoughts, to do lists, memories and feelings at the very moment I am looking at them. I start to imagine what everyone could be feeling: I look at their expression, their movements and demeanour and I get this sudden urge to get to know everyone. To ask them what their life experience is and their hopes for the future.
Glancing at the crowd, people look like inanimate soldiers marching rhythmically and emotionlessly in the same direction. But when I start seeing everyone as a person, this uniformity ends and suddenly everyone is an individual. A young man is vaguely smiling. He is remembering. Someone he likes complimented him and touched his arm. An older lady is frowning. Her ex-husband is trying to alienate her kids from her. And her ex-husband is lonely and insecure – is he a good dad? Will his kids one day chose to never see him again? A younger girl is looking into the distance vaguely. I can’t really read her. Maybe she is filled with existential dread. Maybe she feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere and society is too complicated. That she is responsible for all the problems in the world and that everything is just too cumbersome for a 22-year-old… Yet, maybe not. Maybe I’m projecting a little bit.
I look at each one of them in the eye and I know that they are thinking about something at the same time that I am thinking about them. Maybe even someone in the crowd is thinking about something similar as I am.
I’m connected to everyone else around me. I start to hear everyone’s thoughts and worries and inner chatter. And it gets overwhelming. Like a thousand radios tuned to a thousand different radio stations. Millions of emotions flashing through me, trillions of thoughts… It’s not possible to be connected to every single person in the world and survive. You’d explode if you tried.
Yet, it feels like 99% of the time I’m the exact opposite. Disconnected. Alone. Self-centered. In my head. Seeing everything from my own point of view.
Building a barrier between me and other people. Not really seeing them. And therefore utterly unmoved by others. Indifferent.
Even though it is a pretty obvious statement, we are not living like we understand it. Not really. Not deep in our souls. Every single person in the world is a person. However, we are not looking at others like we understand that they are a person just like us.
Politicians. Homeless people. My therapist. My mom. The girls who used to bully me. The actors that we see on TV. The woman who was really rude to me one time. Assassins. My friend who is a light in this world. Refugees. Nazis. Pianists. Youtubers. Everyone.
I don’t know exactly what I should do with this information. But I have this feeling that it is crucial to learn this for the times that we are living and the times that are coming.