Here on the Outside
I used to be that kid who’d be utterly out of place in social situations. I was always caught up in all the stuff that’s simply happening when people exchange information with one another. It made me nervous, the simple overabundance of it all. Which is not to say that I was afraid of actual people – I was mainly just uncomfortable with the information, and how it could affect what people thought of me, or the vibes I might be giving off. I believed that interaction was a truly sacred thing, and that I gave myself away every time I spoke to someone.
In truth, it was all about me, and so interactions became pretty difficult for me because I was always worried about myself. I convinced myself that I couldn’t fulfill the “expected” needs of others, that my words and facial expressions – or even, at times, my presence alone – could disrupt the formation of positive, meaningful experiences for those around me.
I’ll admit that this is not a great approach to living, because I sold myself short on finding the simplest enjoyment in things, or forming positive, meaningful experiences of my own.
It’s definitely made me self-conscious, and I’ve been quite lonely at times. My social cautions have long been misinterpreted as incompetence, which has in turn made me question my actual competence at simply being social.
And I tell you this only because a lot of people think of this kind of awareness as “wrong” or “bad.” Like a bizarre form of narcissism where you care about others only as much as they prove useful in helping you figure yourself out.
But that’s not the whole story.
I may not be the greatest when it comes to controlling my self-absorbed tendencies, but I do try to view myself as part of a collective whole – as an individual sharing a world with other individuals. Most days I struggle with the part of me that only wants to pay attention to what I want, or what I feel. But on the days when this part is easier to step away from, I’m always surprised by how much better it feels to pay attention to others instead of me.
On occasion I’ve learned some things from it. Like, for instance, the fact that virtually everyone I know possesses the same, gnawing discomfort with what others might be thinking of them. It’s a kind of subconscious self-radar, an implied understanding of the fact that someplace within the coded information you relay to others, there is a you which speaks on behalf of itself without grasping the magnitude of what its doing, with you standing there all the while, experiencing it as it happens, but with no idea of what others take away from it.
I used to think that not everyone was as in-touch with this side of themselves as I was, but the truth is that it would be impossible for me to know this with certainty. And the reason why is important.
Every a person is like a door, with a complimentary keyhole and very elaborate locking mechanism. And behind the door is a seemingly endless expanse of scattered, fractured pieces of reality, a vast array of motion, colors and sounds, experiences all twisted and converging in on themselves, disjointed and anything but comprehensible.
Unfortunately, this mess of information is what we’re supposed to point to and distinguish ourselves with, label as our “identity,” which is incredibly difficult when you stop and think about how much stuff is really there.
In a lot of ways, any part of us that we wish to be known by others must first pass through the tiny little keyhole in our door. We have to stretch ourselves, simplify our being into something small enough to fit through too small a space, which inadvertently turns us into caricatures of ourselves.
None of us actually know what goes on inside, because every one of us is looking at each other through tiny little keyholes, and almost always behind closed doors.
I hate this part of life more than most, because deep down I know that what people see isn’t really me – not entirely, not truly. The whole thing makes me feel like a huge con-artist. It reminds me that I’m in control of which parts of me are seen through my keyhole, and yet somehow I still don’t create the best impression for others. Parts of me get lost in transmission (which is only apparent to me because the parts of me that get paid attention to are rarely ever the parts that I find most important, or “genuinely me.”)
My favorite author wrote that everybody is identical in their secret, unspoken belief that they are different from everyone else. The fear of what I know is lurking behind my door is what I used to think made me different from everyone else, because I couldn’t get away from it. But you’d be surprised by how many people are afraid of themselves in the exact same way, and how desperately they try to keep their doors locked because of it.
Perhaps what makes everyone different is how they choose to express what makes us all identical. In the end, we can’t escape who and what we are, and we’re all self-conscious. The only real choice we have is whether to hide the fact, or let it be seen.
If nothing else, I can you assure that the decision is by no means easy when you’re stuck on the outside of your own door, trying to see yourself as others do.