Thursday, November 18, 2010

Who Are We?

Are we who others think we are? Or are we who we think we are? Or something in between the two?

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a Starbuck’s having coffee. One table away, an argument was raging between a man who appeared to be in his thirties and a slightly younger woman. I will take some editorial liberties remembering the exact words, but here was the gist.

He: “What makes you think you’re always right?  Most of the time you’re not. You’re wrong about almost everything.”

She: “No, I’m not. You think everyone thinks you’re really smart and have all the answers, but most of my friends don’t think that at all. They think you’re stupid and stuck up!”

He: “Everybody knows your friends are all idiots.”

She: “My friends think you’re an idiot, even if you boast about being a PhD. You know what PhD Stands for? Phony Dummy!”

He (gets up): I’m outta here!

She (stays seated): “And you think you dress well? You think you’re a male model? You get all your clothes at Sears and you smell like Hai Karate!”

He: “F*ck you!”

She: “No, f*ck you!

Throughout the debate I tried very hard to appear as if I’m not listening, assiduously stirring my coffee and staring into space. The young woman turns to me, makes a face and says, “He’s such an asshole!” Then she leaves, going in the opposite direction.

Well, now. Here are two people who really had difficulty buying into each other’s images of themselves. I have no idea who these folks were, though I can attest that the man did indeed look as if he dressed at Sears or maybe Home Depot. I did not get close enough to smell the alleged Hai Karate, which is just as well.

I know even less about the woman. Maybe her friends are all idiots, but I doubt it. Most people have at least one friend smarter than they are. I have several; in fact, just about everyone close to me is way smarter than I am.

I guess the point to all this is the realization that whatever image I have of myself is probably false. There may be a core concept that has some value but most of what I may see as both assets and shortcomings is probably inaccurate. My leaving a dollar in the Starbucks jar does not make me a big tipper, even though I might think it does. What I take as wittiness may be incredibly boring to others, and a head full of worthless trivia does not make me the fascinating person I may think I am. Nor, for that fact, do my limitations define me though for years I thought they did. Now I try to live with them as best I can, while working to mitigate their effects on others. I’m not often successful but at least it’s worth a try.

So. Who are you?

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