It is rare to be offered an unvarnished insight into how we are seen by others. Our perceptions of the world around us determine our individual realities; our views will be coloured not just by our life experiences but by those whose opinions we seek out and respect. How we ourselves are seen by these people will rarely be verbalised in any detail. We make assumptions based on snippets of conversation, comments and isolated actions. Others are forming their views in the same way.
Friends will rarely feel able to be too critical for fear of being hurtful. We are fond of our friends and accept those aspects of them that we consider to be faults. We are encouraged to accept those around us as they are and not to try to change them. It is likely that our closest friends will share many of our views anyway as we will generally choose to spend time with those who have similar concerns and interests to us. We are much more likely to offer encouragement and affirmation than criticism; differing opinions will be kept to ourselves or offered gently to avoid causing offence.
Those who are not our friends or who do not know us so well are more likely to be critical but, as they will be basing their opinions on scraps of information gleaned from a few, superficial comments or brief encounters, can more easily be excused or disregarded. It is too easy to misconstrue a few words or actions when context is not properly understood. Insight can still be gained from strangers and their perceptions can be interesting and informative, but most of us will look to those who know us a little better; who we care about and admire; for guidance.
Yesterday I was quite shocked to be told by a long standing and highly intelligent friend that he considered me to be a dupe of a political fallacy that was pernicious and extreme. He believed that I had been conned and did not ‘buy’ my claims to reasonableness. I will mull over the discussion we were having and his explanations for this view of me in due course but, almost more interesting, was my reaction to his bluntly stated opinion. His view of me is so at odds with my view of myself; it is a valuable lesson in complacency.
In just about every area of my life I strive to be reasonable. I try to be open to all sides of an argument and to look at a situation from varying points of view; to be balanced in my opinion and accepting that I cannot see all sides; to bear in mind that I cannot be in possession of all the facts and could, therefore, be incorrect in some of my assumptions. To be told that I am seen as a dupe was unexpected. I was, of course, aware that we follow different political ideologies; I guess I just did not expect the rather scathing, personal put downs.
Our exchange of views happened in the worst possible place for such an interesting discussion – on Facebook. Social networks do not lend themselves well to philosophical debate. However, in this instance I feel that I have probably been exposed to a more honest opinion than had we been face to face. I think that it would have been difficult for him to have been quite so blunt had we not been separated by the impersonal internet. His view may have come as a bit of a blow to my self esteem but it was, nonetheless interesting. I wonder how many other people see my supposedly carefully considered opinions as deluded.
If nothing else, this has been a useful lesson in social interaction. This friend and I are unlikely to ever agree on a political ideology, but I do not see this as a barrier to friendship. His apparently low opinion of me on the other hand could be, but only if I let it. I guess that is why we are so wary of letting others understand what we really think of them when these thoughts are negative. He suggested that I was being sensitive and I suspect that he is right although not for the reasons he articulated. My challenge now is to work through what was said, to learn from it and to move on.
I have been hurt by the comments made but only because I need to work out if I consider them to be true. I know that my friend did not mean to be mean; he is too lovely a person for that. My personal perceptions of myself have been called into question and that is not easy to deal with. I do not wish to be considered a fool when I put so much effort into expanding my knowledge and seeking to acquire understanding. That others may have such a low opinion of me is a hard lesson to learn.