A line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities reads:
‘[it is] a wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other’.
We cannot know exactly what goes on in other people’s heads. We can try to step into other people’s shoes, but they will never quite fit in the same way as our own. In some cases, another person’s perspective may, in fact, seem radically different from our own and we may find it difficult to wholly appreciate their frame of mind. Yet we can still, at least, try to understand others and sympathize with them to a great degree, even if we will never be able to enter entirely into their stream of thoughts.
We cannot presume that we know exactly what it is like to be another person. People hold up a social front to others; they project a certain self-image. Sometimes the people who appear most happy and bubbly can, in reality, be struggling with deep-rooted anxieties and mental health issues. We do not hear the thoughts and fears that keeps a person awake until 3am in the morning. We do not know which mental narratives they are fighting against.
There is a person that I knew from secondary school who was always smiling, joking and laughing. He was the class-joker. And yet, he is no longer here today.
Sometimes those individuals who need to make jokes the most, are those who are most manic and extreme in their emotions, swinging between intense joy and sudden pangs of self-loathing. Of course, I will never quite be able to appreciate my classmate’s particular mind-set, nor do I claim to do so.
His smile still haunts me – a smile so jubilant and playfully mocking, yet somehow also tinged with underlying pain (or am I just ascribing it that quality in retrospect, I don’t know). A smile that acted as a shield to hide away insecurities. The line from Passenger’s song The Wrong Direction comes to mind here: ‘I hide behind my jokes as a form of protection’.
I guess many of us do this to a certain extent. Jokes come to our rescue in our hopelessly awkward moments. But sometimes they can also block us off from other people, they can hinder us in saying what we really want to tell others. All I can say is, that we need to be conscientious of one another and appreciate that social interactions can be misleading. A person is more than the sum of their social interactions. Let us try to be more compassionate and less judgemental. Let us try to drop our own superficiality and social facades, so that others will feel comfortable to do likewise.
In a society that is inherently very judgemental and materialistic – a society filled with heavily edited Instagram photos and advertisements telling us how we should look and how we should live – it is hard sometimes not to put up these facades. We constantly try to match up to these unrealistic ideals and convince others of our ‘coolness’ or ‘worthiness’. And yet, the more we try, the more we indirectly put pressure on others to do the same, thus triggering a ‘race to the bottom’. We have inadvertently come to live in an age of hyper self-consciousness.
In the end, what really matters is not our appearance or whether we meet these socially determined ‘standards’, but rather it is about who we are as a person and the relations we have with others. We need people in our lives that we can share our real thoughts and crazy ideas with. People who can accept our imperfections. It may be that other people can never entirely understand us, but our most meaningful relationships are formed with those who at least try to do so.
I will finish this article with a few words of wisdom from my yoga teacher:
‘Let go of any negative judgements or thoughts you may have of yourself or others; thank your body for what it has allowed you to do and to have achieved. And be grateful for the things and people you have in your life’.