Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Hidden depths

How much can we ever understand someone else? Even if we've known a person for decades, can we ever compre-hend more than a fraction of their complex personality? How much can we ever glimpse behind all the public masks and role-playing and social diplomacy?

By the time we're adults we're amazingly skilled at faking it - in displaying not our real selves but the selves we want other people to see. The competent mum or dad, the chatty socialite, the reassuring friend, the diligent employee. Some pretty astute detective skills are needed to cut through all the pretence and dig out the real person hiding underneath.

We don't want other people to see the secret reservoirs of malice, jealousy, violence, greed, sloth, contempt and all the other 101 varieties of untamed nastiness. And worse than that, the fleeting desire for sheer unmitigated madness - the wish to strangle our argumentative spouse, drown our impossible children, burn down the stingy bank, bomb that hideous new office block.

If we know someone really well, we'll have seen a few of these squalid impulses in unguarded moments. But it's unlikely we've seen them all, or seen them in their full naked ferocity. And the really shocking traits may be concealed so rigorously that we never discover them at all.

How many times have we read of a woman whose husband of twenty years suddenly turns out to be a serial killer, a multi-million pound fraudster, a polygamist, or a drug trafficker? They swear they had no idea what was going on, that he was an affectionate, charming husband who aroused no suspicions whatever.

Extreme emotions and beliefs are especially hard to fathom. Strange obsessions and passions and hatreds that make no sense. What fuels such vicious hostility towards a former lover? What fires such devotion to an obscure religious sect? There's something going on there we just aren't privy to.

At the end of the day there's only so much you can learn about another person. Only they can know the whole story. Only they can know exactly how they think and feel and react. Only they can know their every sordid nook and cranny. They'll always leave us guessing more often than not.

PS: Next post - three adorable little kittens called Fluffy, Taffy and Tiddles.

34 comments:

Jenny Woolf said...

That is where reading fiction can come in handy, do you agree?

Rummuser said...

Remarkably true Nick. On the other hand, the less fortunate wear their hearts and their thoughts on their sleeves with astonishing innocence. It is sophistication that changes that foundation.

Ursula said...

What an extraordinary view on humanity, Nick.

We don't all harbour an axe murderer inside us waiting to get his chance.

I thought your first paragraph's question interesting. And the answer is simple: Of course, we don't and can't know everything about each other, good or not so good. If we did where would the mystery, enchantment be?

Maybe you should take up crime writing, Nick.

And, by the way, I do take exception to your assertion that "by the time we are adults we are skilled at faking it". Faking what? I most certainly don't fake anything. Neither do I expect anyone to be a mind reader.

Feeling vaguely nauseous,
U

Nick said...

Jenny: You mean fiction can help us understand other people better by describing people's inner lives? I always find though that real people are very different from fictional characters.

Ramana: You're probably right about the less fortunate being more direct. Though not necessarily if there's still something to be gained by dissembling!

Nick said...

Ursula: Oh well, you invariably find my views extraordinary, whatever the subject! You mean you've never thought of topping someone? Never ever? That's remarkably pure-hearted of you.

Oh come now, by faking it I only mean that we suit our actions to the occasion and sit on any awkward thoughts and feelings that might not go down too well. I don't necessarily mean faking it on a grand scale.

I recommend milk of magnesia for the nausea, by the way.

Bijoux said...

I never really bought the whole "I had no idea" comments from close family members or spouses. I think people put blinders on when they don't want to believe or see something negative about the person they love.

However, I don't believe the majority of humanity is evil, either, at least by your definition.

Nick said...

Bijoux: I guess it's possible they knew something but were denying it.

I'm not saying the majority of humanity is evil, but I do think most of us have rather shabby impulses from time to time, ones we'd rather not display.

Nick said...

You only have to look at some of these Twitter hate campaigns to see what twisted thoughts and feelings some people are secretly harbouring.

Ursula said...

The kind of nausea I feel at your sentiments cannot be cured by milk of magnesia.

And no, I have never thought of topping anyone. Are you crazy or something?

And please do stop using the collective 'we': I, Ursula, do not, as you put it, "sit on awkward thoughts and feelings".

U

Nick said...

Ursula: I think your definition of crazy is very broad if it includes the odd murderous thought.

But I'm glad to hear you never sit on awkward thoughts and feelings. As is clear from your plentiful uninhibited comments! And do keep them flowing by the way, I'm fairly resilient....

John Gray said...

Sometimes it's just easier to focus on what we do see
Rather to look at what we can't
We are just too complex a species

kylie said...

sorry to say so,nick but i gotta go with ursula here.
i am well known to the people who make the effort.i might temper my reactions to make them more palatable but for anyone who is looking, my truth is there.
you seem to have a very dismal view of humanity...or maybe you have exaggerated for effect?

Nick said...

John: You have a point there. But I find it hard to ignore the unknown. I'm just way too curious.

Kylie: Go with Ursula in what way exactly? That you never harbour any nasty feelings? That other people don't? And I don't think I know that much about you, even though I make the effort - you're still a mystery in a lot of ways.

I don't think I have a dismal view of humanity in general, but I'm very conscious of all those people who're making other folk's lives a misery. Perhaps I've just been reading the media too much? Or I've been hurt once too often?

Nick said...

Of course if I said that I never have any unsavoury feelings, that I'm a 100% lovely person, then everyone would accuse me of being smug and patronising....

kylie said...

well i dont think we all fake it and i dont think everyone harbours horrid thoughts. my horrid thoughts are fleeting and could never come to fruition.

so whats mysterious about me, then?

Nick said...

Kylie: Oh, my horrid thoughts are all fleeting too. And very seldom acted on.

What's mysterious? Hard to say, but I just don't have any real idea of what makes you tick or what puts a spring in your step. Apart from the kids and being a doula. I know religion's a big thing for you but I don't understand it as I'm not that way inclined myself.

Anonymous said...

Nick, did I ever tell you about my wig, glass eye, dentures & wooden leg or about the three bodies I have hidden under the floor boards? Would you believe it if I had?

grannymar said...

Nick, that was me GM.making the last comment. If this one won't work, I'll give up and go to bed!

Nick said...

Grannymar: Well, I'd have to check what you told me against my own observation and common sense. Some fibs are credible, some are fishy straightaway. I'll be round tomorrow to look for loose floorboards and the stench of decay....

e said...

You seem to have stirred the pot a bit with this , Nick. I prefer a bit of mystery myself as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.

Nick said...

e: That's clearly a more sensible attitude to take. Unfortunately I'm an insatiably curious person and curbing my curiosity is difficult.

Liz said...

It's one of my 'favourite' phrases, 'Ah but if you really knew what I was like ...'

I think nobody would like me - but then I sometimes wonder: are others thinking the same? I suppose they are.

Although sometimes people seem genuinely to believe their own hype/front.

Liz said...

I've just read the comments and I'm amazed that you readers seem to take umbrage at the idea that we fake it or have the secret reservoirs you mention. Of course we do!

Nick said...

Liz: I tend to think that as well. If people knew all my obnoxious hidden impulses and opinions, if they knew me warts and all, would they just keep well away?

I'm glad you said that about faking it, Liz. I'm amazed people take exception as well. Are they really sugar and spice and all things nice? I don't believe it. I KNOW one or two of them are telling massive fibs.

kylie said...

well nick right now you are being condescending and i wont hide my urge to strangle you, up close, watching the terror in your eyes.

you realise you are talking about your readers as if they cant see what you say?

my original comment was aimed at the extremity of your theory, i dont think that most people go around harbouring ugly urges that are a part of their very being, most of the ugly stuff is fleeting but you imagine us all to be psychopathic monsters.

Cheerful Monk said...

I don't worry much about if other people understand me. I'm more curious about how well I understand myself. We humans are complicated and fascinating creatures. And we have more experience with ourselves than with anyone else.

Nick said...

Kylie: He he! I'm not being condescending at all. Rude maybe, but I'm just saying I don't believe people are as snow-white as they make out.

I'm not seeing people as psychopathic monsters at all. That's your exaggeration. I just think people have a lot of not-so-benevolent impulses that they keep to themselves. Or not, if they have a Twitter account.

Nick said...

Jean: That as well. I always want to be more self-aware, but that's tricky when I'm totally immersed in the self I'm trying to understand objectively.

Ursula said...

The self congratulatory exchange between you and Liz somewhat unfortunate. Don't either of you tell me, indeed second guess, what I do or not think and feel.

You KNOW, do you?, Nick, one or two of your readers telling massive fibs? Really? Are you sure? Apply logic: According to your original post we don't know anything about others' shallows and hidden depth.

Hot tip of the day: Just because you have your impulses doesn't mean you have to project them onto someone else. Neither should you slag off those who constitute part of your readership, naturally, without naming names. The coward's way out: Point a finger whilst pleading "please please don't break it off". What a most unpleasant experience this has been.

U


Nick said...

Ursula: Self-congratulatory? Second-guessing? Illogical? Projecting? Slagging off? Cowardly? Unpleasant?

I think I need a little lie-down. Or an urgent session with my therapist.

Liz said...

Oh dear, Ursula!

Secret Agent Woman said...

I'm kind of glad I was busy and got to this one late enough to avoid the venom!

I won't speak for anyone else, but just say that yes of course I have fleeting dark thoughts that I keep to myself. My recent post where I imagined what I might say to my horrible date is just one example. And I keep that stuff "hidden" because there's no sense in going around being openly ugly to people. I don't see what purpose that serves.

Nick said...

Agent: Venom indeed. Kind of proves my point, I think....

Of course we all have fleeting dark thoughts, but yes, any sensible person keeps them hidden and doesn't act on them. It's not as if I actually roam the streets foaming at the mouth and wielding a machete.

locks said...

i like this its only test