Sunday, 12 September 2010

How well can you really know someone?

I read Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse a couple of months ago, and it continually makes reference to the protagonist being both man and ‘wolf’. He breaks himself up into two parts; I guess the equivalent of having a good and evil side to your personality. Sections of this book then go on to explain how man cannot be broken down so simply into just two pieces, and it is in fact a much more complex matter. This got me thinking at the time (I was on a train in India when this all occurred to me) that no matter how much you can try to do so, can you ever really know someone inside and out?

This is always a hot topic to consider when considering travelling with someone, and I suppose that’s why I got to thinking about this when I was in India with three other people. The thought of having to spend every waking second with someone else really makes you consider what flaws they have that’ll really get to you when you’re tired, hungry and probably a little bit home sick. Now I’ve known two of the guys I was in India with for a number of years; well to be quite accurate I’ve known one of them for my entire life, as he is my brother. The other chap happens to be my current boyfriend, George, and we’d been together around 5 months at the time. Despite the huge difference in time periods I have known these two people, they both continue to astound me in equal measures as to how well I really know them. I spend a lot of my time with George, and sometimes he manages to come out with things that my immediate response to is ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ I can’t quite decide if this is a good or a bad thing. In one respect I get miniature heart attacks on a once-a-week basis when something unexpected pops out of his mouth. On the other hand, it keeps me on my toes. Whilst the feeling of intimacy that comes with knowing someone through and through is so very comforting, I think the idea that I have so much more to learn about the people I spend my time with is an exciting prospect. Let’s just hope he’s not holding anything too shocking close to his chest!

When I think about this however, the question does pop into my head as to do I really know myself all that well? The more I’ve been writing recently and taking a cold hard stare at the values and beliefs I hold which come up whilst I’m typing away, the more I realise and often change the opinions and thoughts I originally set out to write. If I consider the complexity and depths of various thought processes that go on in my head on a daily basis, I often think, ‘If I don’t really get what’s going on in my head, how could I possibly completely understand someone else’s?’ I’m not really one to hold back on my thoughts and feelings (this often gets me into trouble) and I’m very open, but there are certain aspects of myself that I like to keep hidden, If someone as direct and unreserved as me can hold back some details even to their closest friends, I might struggle a bit trying to work out someone much more guarded.

This is one of those things about the human mind that continues to baffle me, the concept of our own individual train of thought. James Joyce, you tried to get this all down on paper when writing Ulysses and it will be, for most people, a load of gobbledigook, but if we really did see into the minds of other people, that’s probably exactly what we’d find. I don’t think you can ever really know what someone else’s process of thinking is, it’s finding someone who has one you can combine yours with that’s the trick. That or the complete opposite would make for a good conversation. I’m not much of a scientist or a psychologist but in my own little way I try to make sense of these things, usually failing in the process, as it is truly unsolvable. For now I can come to no conclusion. God knows what you think. 

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