Friday, May 17, 2013

How others see us

This week I had the opportunity to see how someone else saw me. Her impression of me was based on some memories of the time we spent together, and I was a bit surprised by how imprecise her description of me was.

One of the things we have to learn as we mature is that others don't see us the way we see ourselves. The way others see us often says more about them than about us. Their perception of us is greatly influenced by many factors, such as how similar or different we are to them, the circumstances of our acquaintance, and even trivial things like the associations they may have with our name from knowing other people with the same name.

There are also differences in how important others are to us and how important we are to them. The more sociable people have a larger number of acquaintances in their lives, and consequently, perhaps each of these acquaintances is of lower importance to them, while for people with fewer contacts, each one may play a larger role. We have to accept that apart from life partners and personal friends, there may not be mutual equivalence in the importance of our less close relationships to us and to the other party.

We all want to be understood, and most of us try to present ourselves in a largely honest and genuine manner, perhaps with some tendency to show the more positive sides of ourselves and sometimes conform to expectations. So it can be surprising to discover how easily we can be misunderstood and misrepresented.

Some of these misunderstandings result from people's different values. We all like to assume we are right, and that others think and behave, or should think and behave, the way we do. But we have to be aware that what seems to us like normal behaviour may seem to others very strange. They will interpret it in light of their own values.

In general, the more time people spend with each other the better they should get to know and understand each other, particularly if they want to be friends. This will involve some explaining and discussing of values and motivations. But there are people who are less empathic or less capable of seeing others as they really are, and so it can be difficult to get them to understand you.

We will not be understood by everyone we encounter, nor will we be liked by everyone. The great diversity of human personalities is a source of constant fascination, but it can also be frustrating, particularly when someone views you, for their own reasons, in a negative fashion you consider completely unwarranted.

The question is: how important is it to be seen as we really are? In some situations it can be very important, while in others it might be a waste of energy to try to get someone to understand. Mature people know when to accept that the way others see us is beyond our complete control.

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