July 30, 2012

I Know You: An Ethic of Meeting pt. 2

It’s been about a month since my last post on this subject, the content of meeting, of meeting someone for the first time (and I'm talking about meeting people in general). My reasons for neglecting this post is, I suppose, irrelevant, so I’ll just get to it.

First of all, let’s talk about the title. In my previous post I mentioned a few times about the possibility--actually the inevitability--of being wrong in the event of getting to know another. People have preconceived notions about others all the time, before, as and after they meet them.

“She’s boring.”

“He’s ignorant.”

“They’re sheltered.” Whatever.

People (and I’m included) think they know another, even before they introduce themselves. Only to ourselves, because we are obviously the great epicenter of knowledge and understanding, we proudly proclaim “I know you.” They become the embodied replica of the image we pronounced them to be in our minds. In other words, we snuff out any possibility of truly knowing them. Thus, the ironic, “I Know You.”

So, how should meeting go down? I think a lot could be said here, but I’d like to start my humble and simple reflection off by asking another, different question: How confident are you that your prejudgments of people are sound, even before you meet them? In other words, are you surprised when you’re wrong?

If you are surprised that you were wrong about a person, after realizing that your prejudgments were poorly founded or misconstrued, this may be because you understand, even on a subconscious level, that you are superior. You may believe that your interpretation of others are correct even before meeting them. This is prideful because, when surprised, you reveal that you had little room for error or being wrong. You thought your view was airtight and built strong, when actually you built on sand. You weren’t leaving any openness, possibility of change or instruction--particularly from the person it mattered most, the other person. In a word, you weren’t willing to receive.

A person and the elements of the Eucharist, here, are in common. You never take Communion. You always receive it. So it is with people.

This is actually the only way you can know another person. You must receive them, as they are, as they give themselves to you. A person is a gift they give to you.

Pride says, I do not want your gift, I do not want you. Pride proclaims--proudly, sinfully and all alone--I reject you. I reject you as you and instead, I insist in my prejudgments. I will remain steadfast in what I thought before, though, now, I have evidence to believe otherwise.

Or maybe you weren’t being intentionally closed-off. Perhaps you just built a nice conceptual structure, a framework to understand someone--which is difficult to move, by the way. To usher a metaphor, you put that person in a box. But what does this mean?

When I think of putting something or some things in a box, I think of organization and categorization. I want to put like items together. After, I label my box and put it away somewhere out of the way.

Employing this metaphor, it seems that to put someone in a box means that you (think you) understand them, categorize them and label them. Then, you put it all away, down in the depths of the mind’s abyss. You think you know someone or how they will react or what they will say and--Bam!--then they do something you weren’t expecting, something out of the your ordinary, something out of the your box.

Then you are, again, surprised.

Now I don't think the goal is to become dull to where nothing surprises. Getting to know--receiving--another is, if nothing else, surprising. People's stories shock and their histories astound. But the surprise is sprung from a recognition that the other is a mystery, a complex world, an awe-inspiring beauty.

I can't help but wonder if the handshake is no help to us anymore (and this is coming from a firm believer in the handshake). What if, instead of clasping hands, we, following the picture's example, opened our palms and lowered our arms to one another as an embodied reminder what getting to know another is all about. It's about, I think, receiving.