I am not who you think I am,
I am not who I think I am,
I am who I think you think I am.
- the "looking-glass" theory, Charles Cooley in 1902.
In one of my favorite interviews of the last several years photographer and film maker Sam Jones interviewed actor Ethan Hawke. Near the end of the interview Hawke mentioned something that struck a familiar chord in me - sometimes a message has to be said in just a way that it finally resonates. Hawke remarked that at some point during a filming project he received a compliment from the director that had become a really talented actor. And then as Hawke explains, a funny thing began to happen, he started acting like one. It marked a moment in his growth as a creative. Then Hawke mentioned that at some point in his marriage the same thing happened with his wife, in her eyes, he could tell that how she treated and interacted with him, that she saw him in a higher light than how he felt about himself. Subsequently, he again found himself becoming that better husband, he started acting more the man she saw through her eyes. He was changing and growing. He was becoming the not the person he thought he was, but becoming the person that the other person thought he truly was. This is just like the "looking-glass" theory brought about by Charles Cooley in 1902. Cooley stated that a person's self grows out of society's interpersonal interactions and the perceptions of others. I now ask, as I sit back and ponder, Is this not how our modern day social media works ? Sort of ? Let me explain.
We have moved down through the ages by doing a mere few things right, mostly to learn to hunt and gather better than other species, to survive difficulty, disease and hardship better than our predators, but perhaps our survival is more so based on our learning to communicate better. We started with grunts as cavemen, then learned to draw on cave walls, then we learned a sparse few common words and hand signals, then we developed language. Fast forward to today, we are now moving into the advanced technological era. We are fast moving through a new means of communicating, a social media phase where texting, emojis, snapchat and video have brought the four corners of the earth together via the interweb, leaving us on the cusp of something even grander on the horizon.
The question remains, why has this all occurred? What is driving this expedited change? I propose it is all leading us to a place where we can understand each other better, so we can comprehend the differences between us, so we can grow, and perhaps, so we can grow intimately together. In fact, this all may be happening so that possibly we might even merge our thoughts and brains, a cohesive hive of wisdom, of all seeing and all knowing. Like it or not, the experts are proposing that It will not be long before we can read each others minds. We will be able to think a thought and the recipient will hear and feel the thought without words. We will immediately sense another's emotions, and play off them or their next thoughts. This is likely to be a part of, and perhaps a product of, AR and VR (augmented reality, and virtual reality). Anyone who has been on Twitter for more than a few hours, following tweets and retweets and the resultant conversations on a given worthy topic may grasp a small glimmer of what is to come. When on Twitter, interacting with others over a topic, as more people are brought into the fold of the conversation a common threat begins to take form, a common understanding, if one is paying close attention one can see a wise consensus percolating, bubbling up to the surface elevating the lot to a higher more insightful level. It often happens quickly, but it is fascinating to see and be a part of.
As I sit back and observe all of this from the preconceived jaundiced eyes of a 50 year old, I think the flaw in our old ways of communicating was that we were always trying to support our thesis to others. Too many times were were waiting to talk and voice our next thoughts rather than listen and receive from another. This I have been guilty of from time to time. I think we can all accept a little guilt toward this shortcoming. At times, it is as if our identity and our lives had points of view which we had to defend and fight for. Is that not the root of so many disputes, so many misunderstandings, so many fragmenting relationships? Many of us have been guilty of trying to find someone that understands us, someone who communicates the way we need them to, someone who understands our language of listening, hearing and responding. Someone who respects our ways, plays up to our "warm fuzzies" and does not threaten our decades of identity building and the few things that might make us feel good, certain and happy about ourselves. We think that when we find a person, a partner, or a friendship who shares that commonality, we collectively believe we are sound. We think our collective way is "the way", and we feel comfortable and good about that. But, I think this may be flawed. I think that to truly grow we need to be uncomfortable, we need to be faced with difficulties, challenges and adversity, both in body and in mind. I think this because if we are merely wanting someone to accept our means of communicating and thinking and of existing, then we are failing to struggle to learn another means of communicating, a means that is different from what is ours, from what makes us comfortable, makes us feel whole. This ultimately stunts our growth, it limits our deeper insight, yet it feels safe, and so it is usually our choice unless we are willing to struggle, to feel uncomfortable, to feel threatened. And so in time, if left with our "warm fuzzy" feeling comfortable world, as one might predict, our relationships become stale. We are not challenged and stimulated, we begin to rot, and our relationships do as well. Slowly, surely, predictably, there is nothing new, nothing fresh, nothing to climb or challenge us to struggle with together. And soon, there is nothing left to discuss, the common minds have melted into a puddle of mediocrity. Perhaps this way, this manner that feels good and safe, is all disguise, a flaw, one that will keep us where we are in our development. It is almost analogous to a defiance of not learning how to use Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat, or to learn how #hashtags integrate and bring groups of common thought together on these types of social media. There too is a language none of us were recently familiar with, but for those who have embraced it, there have been leaps and bounds of shared intellect, wisdom and sharing. Those who have embraced the uncomfortable, the uncertain, the unknown, the new, have leaped ahead of the crowd in terms of accelerated learning, acceptance and the limited ways of our separated thinking. By bringing our own small world closer to thousands of others whom we have never met, yet with the willingness to open up that small world, we have grown, matured and advanced. In fact, perhaps by avoiding these newer means of technology it is as crippling to our growth into the next dimension of communication as failing to change, accept or modify our comfortable love language to a lover's different way. If one wants to move to a higher level of communication, discussion, wisdom, one is going to have to adopt a different way of seeing and discussing things. In fact, one could make broader strokes by saying that, if we have already done our own inner work, to understand our present ways and our comforts in existing and communicating, one might argue that we should fully abandon those stale comforts and lead a new life. For only through fresh eyes and a fresh heart, can one fully embrace the means of challenged communication with our anguished and frustrated lover or friend. Perhaps this is the way to grow into this new dimension, by embracing different things, difficult ways, by adopting new and challenging means of communication.
Within just a decade or so, it is not unlikely that we will be able to read the minds of anyone we interface with, it will be a means of merging our intellects. The research is already saying this is quite possible. We will feel what another feels, we will understand the way they understand, we will be able to love the way they love. There is no doubt going to be a difficult learning curve with this new way, with all the available information that will be immediately upon us in a given moment, it may necessitate a flexible means of communication. There will not be just one way of seeing things, the landslide of emotions, experiences, wisdom, biases, and opinions will infinitely complicate a "conversation". With miscommunication as the absolute scourge of all relationships, of humanity actually, I think we are quickly coming to meet our greatest fears, that people will know exactly how we feel and think without our verbal expression. This new way will force honesty, acceptance and maturity all at once, and this can be our biggest gift. If we accept it. And for the many who do not, it may be their demise.
Perhaps the best means of growing right now while we wait for this "great assimilation event", is to abandon all that we have fought to gain to find our comforts in life, in finding comfort in ourselves and what makes us feel whole. This moves against the grain we have been taught, that being to find someone, people, groups with whom we have sought out to feel safe and comfortable with, entities which have helped us find a comfort in who we thing we are. This we have been told, is the recipe for lasting love and friendships. After all, isn't this what we try to do? We date and scour the landscape of mankind to find someone who "gets us", of groups who accept us for who we are, who do not make us feel vulnerable and afraid. Perhaps we have it backwards though, if it is self growth we are looking for. The flaw in this is that it can stunt the process of becoming who we hope and wish to eventually become, to overstep our limitations and comforts and grow. The quote, "one's life begins at the edge of our comfort zone" resonates strongly here.
If we could find a way to trust that those who do not understand us, because they are merely different in how they tick, talk and think, we could find a way to grow closer to those who actually have so much more to give us. Rather than try to find someone who "gets us" and doesn't rock our boat of comfort, perhaps we should be seeing out those exact people who challenge us, make us uncomfortable, who force us to grow, to look at things differently, to learn to accept that there are other ways to the end means. Perhaps this is the key to all of this relationship and communication thing. Steven Pressfield refers to it as "resistance". We only grow when we are forced up against the resistances in our life, pressed up against the hard times, hard things, hard choices. It is always easy to run away because it is hard, but when we stare it down and make it a mission to overcome, resistance gives way and blossoms into a higher self, a stronger self, one we can conquer even stronger vices and demons from upon high.
As we have moved from grunts and cave wall drawings, through languages and coding, to texting and emojis and augmented reality and soon virtual reality. This is going to eventually lead us to the pinnacle of communication, mind-melding voiceless "speech" where we instantly can interface with someone and hear, see, feel, understand and accept, instantly, yet perhaps in time, unconditionally and non-judgmentally. Life seems to always give us two choices in most things, the easy road, and the hard road. One road leaves us unchanged yet in temporary peace, the other promises scars and pain, yet the riches of the kingdom. Which road will you take ? Though life is short, there is much here to learn if we wish to endure the storms of challenge, the scars of resistance.
I started this piece of writing with Charles Cooley's 1902 quote on the "looking-glass" theory.
"I am not who you think I am, I am not who I think I am, I am who I think you think I am."
As we move toward and into these inevitable voiceless mind-melding communication means of the near future, augmented by the assistance of AR and VR, we are going to find out what others immediately think of us. There will be only truth, data and emotion. Just as with today's social media, with all its trolls and mean folk, It is going to likely necessitate that those initial voyagers are confident and grounded in who they are. All to quickly they will find out who they truly are through their own impression of who they think they are, in the minds of others. Maybe.
The world is a mirror we put ourselves up against. If we care to be observant of ourselves. Just like Ethan Hawke's epiphanies from the start of this piece, he became who he thought they thought he had become. Head spinning ? Perhaps the attached videos by Jason Silva will help bring it together.
"Life is not merely a series of meaningless accidents or coincidences, but rather it is a tapestry of events that culminate in an exquisite, sublime plan." -Dean's speech, Serendipity