Whiskey Day has been writing a great series of posts about how we perceive self and others through interactions in virtual worlds, blogs and social networks. One recurring theme is the differential between who we actually are and how we are perceived by others . . .
You don’t know me. You know many things about me. You know the name I chose to share with you. You know the face I choose to wear. But how genuine is that? As long as the puppet is entertaining, do you care? You Don't Know Jack
The problem with labels is that, while they might be true on some level and sometimes worth a chuckle or ten, they ultimately do something harmful: they dehumanize. Labels and broad generalizations erase all of the complexity of someone’s rich story and paint them as a one-dimensional caricature. And once you’ve dehumanized them, it’s easy to marginalize them, and ultimately ignore them; to dismiss them and allow yourself to feel superior. Don't be a DummyAnd the way we experience ourselves . . .
Is there a danger in loving that image of ourselves that we’ve created? No matter how different from our physical selves, our virtual selves are still a reflection which we have created; a facet of ourselves that we long to both share with others, and to possess. from NarcissusEach of the scenarios Whiskey describes stem from the human compulsion to conceptualize experience into nice understandable packages. We all carry a virtual world in our heads that's a mental model of the external world. See what comes to mind when you read the following words:
New York . . . World War Two . . . Lindsay Lohan . . .
The human brain is amazing! Your mind just traveled in space and time to deliver full blown conceptions based on relatively limited personal experience. What you just experienced is the core of what differentiates humans from other forms of life. It's also what creates the problems Whiskey describes when we mistake our mental maps of ourselves and others for the actual territory.
This process is also exacerbated by our compulsion to strategically manage and control the information we share about ourselves. Consciously or unconsciously, we put ourselves into boxes as we choose how to represent ourselves online. This isn't necessarily a bad or disingenuous activity. If we don't project a strong image of ourselves online people will just put us into their own conceptual boxes and fill in the blanks with their own projections. And who knows what the hell they'll come up with?
So can we genuinely come to know each other? Personally, I agree with Byron Katie who said that no two people have ever met. We never experience anyone directly because it's always through the filter of our own perceptions. But what we can do is reality-test our beliefs and not confuse the judgements in our mind for the reality of the other sentient being. Bryon Katie has a great process to detect and let go the false negative beliefs we have about ourselves and other people. I recommend it highly.
So for the record, I'm content to be your content. You can love me in a box.