Knowing me knowing you
One of the most surprising and troubling encounters of last year was with myself, semi-fictionalized. It was in a collection of essays about encounters with strangers in foreign countries. I only discovered this when it was chosen for a reprint in one of the National Geographic publications, and they rang from New York to check names and dates.
The journalist/traveller had written the story from memory ten years after the event, the central scene of which was watching giant green turtles come ashore on a beach to lay their eggs on the night of a lunar eclipse, in the South Atlantic.
Why was it so uncomfortable to read? It was not that some of the facts were wrong, for that was inevitable. If anything his account was flattering, and certainly generous, to me at least. I remember the occasion vividly, and his account is true to what happened, if perhaps more lyrical than I would have written it.
Why do I wish I had never read it? And why do images still mock me, even though I never gave it a second read? I am being silly, even childish, for I know that for all my introspection and self-analysis, other people generally know me better than I do myself. This is true of us all. I have consistently taught against the contemporary pressures to solipsism and the dangers of self-delusion. So why, when presented with an unexpected example of the general principle, has it troubled me?
Other people may do the job better than I, but their mistakes are so much more evident (to me) than my own, and when committed to print so much more permanent. What this really means is that they reveal, by their mistakes, just how self-deluding I am. It is the errors that show how this great mystery of personal knowledge works.
Being known – this is at the heart of what it means to be human. We talk of consciousness, but it is the consciousness not of ourselves but of others that is the crucial difference that marks us off from animals. Being known is the great gift of those who love us. And no one loves us more, or knows us more truly than Our Lord himself.
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