Christmas holidays provide great space for reflections.
A heated personal conversation last week exposed interesting thinking about what people believe they know about each other. I was reminded of part of that last night when my daughter asked what I thought about something, then told me my answer was wrong. I told her she coudn’t possibly know if what I thought was wrong; those are my thoughts. She eased things by saying “It’s a joke, Daddy.” But, my main concern isn’t.
I’m 62, but my actual age isn’t the source of any major problem in this topic.
The only person who can claim to know me well is me. No matter how much time anyone has spent with me the best they could ever say about my achievements is that ‘I saw him do…’ The most they could ever say about my thoughts were what I shared with them. Either way, it’s less than the whole picture, and the amount of any possible picture must diminish with time actually spent in my company.
My father has known me longer than anyone, and he’s now in his late 80s and his eyesight and memory are both failing. The other people who have known me from close to my birth are some relatives and a few friends in Jamaica; I don’t know when they first met me, but it was sometime after my mother and I came out of hospital in 1955. None of those people has been with me all the time since they met me; many did not see me for decades, when I was living in England.
My oldest living friend met me in 1961, in England at primary school, and I last saw him four years ago, after a gap of some 40 years. Other primary school friends I have not seen since maybe the mid-1990s. The person who has known me since secondary school and met me recently is a Canadian whom I last saw about 10 years ago.
Much of my life is not documented. Few pictures exist of me as a child. I know of no pictures that show me as a track athlete. But, I have trophies and certificates to prove that I won some important events. Only a few pictures show me as a footballer, and only one as a schoolboy footballer, standing with my high school team. I know pictures were taken of me during my days at grammar school, but I cant recall where any of them are. A few pictures show me during my university years, mainly socializing, and none studying. If anyone has pictures of my graduation I’d love to see them.
As Carole King sang, ‘My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue…’ but who knows that, besides me.
I think my parents knew I had a few crushes on girls when I was at grammar school, and met one of the girls, but just in passing. My parents knew I was drinking under-age, but didn’t have any problem with it, not least because it seemed to them to be no problem. I was driving from a young age and didn’t drink and drive. I didn’t take ‘recreational’ drugs: I was an athlete and one of my mentors had always stressed the belief that ‘my body is a shrine’.
My parents had little idea of what I did during my university years, after leaving home and living with friends, for the first time. Once I married and moved to other places, they got snippets of my life, including when they were able to visit and share time. Once I moved abroad and they also had moved back to Jamaica, contact was frequent but lives were very different. Once I got back to Jamaica, my mother had died and my father had suffered a stroke.
People who now form the core of my life were not there for my first 30-40 years. I know my youngest daughter longer than she knows, me: I was at her birth and can tell her a thing or two about that 🙂
I hope you get my drift.
Without being rude, I’ll just say it’s not a shame to admit that you don’t know me. Even if we’d been together for ever and I shared with you my thoughts, you’d still have to be sure that I told you all and that I did not distort anything. Given human propensity to self-protect… 🙂
I’ll give a passing word to those who study psychology and grapple with notions of self-awareness and whether observers can ‘know’ better.
He who knows others is learned; he who knows himself is wise.