Self Knowledge

We, who are never-endingly confused by our own internal delusions, should not go looking for unknown external ones. It seems to me that it is excusable to disbelieve any wonder, at least in so far as we can weaken its ‘proof’ by diverting it along some non-miraculous way. I am of Saint Augustine’s opinion, that in matters difficult to verify and perilous to believe, it is better to incline towards doubt than certainty.

This is, of course, a quote from Montaigne, a reflection on my recent comment, both here and on my other blog, that we humans are largely strangers to ourselves and perhaps should show some restraint in our perceived or stated knowledge about others given our rampant self delusion.

I’ve had a thought recently that perhaps I should just adopt the general assumption that no one actually likes me. This, of course, can be taken way too far. To assume, for example, that everyone dislikes you is to make a leap of faith just as great as to assume everyone loves you. But to think that others hold opinions about you that are mixed and closer to neutral than swaying either in a positive or negative direction is probably a generally accurate stance to assume about how others view most fellow humans.

This probably comes off as a harsh thing to believe, especially about yourself, but I think it holds up to examination rather well. We go through life knowing that we have to get along with certain people because we interact with them regularly. To say that you like a coworker, for example, could mean nothing more than you find nothing particularly offensive about that person. The opinions that person states aren’t obnoxious, he or she has a reasonable sense of humor and doesn’t have moods that affect yours, generally you’re going to be ok with that person, unless that person, starts overstepping boundaries and making more out of those tepid feelings of default approval.

You can collect a whole lot of people like this in your life without really trying, people who are just inoffensively there — and they can continue to be there a stunningly long time. The core trait of any long lasting friendship of this sort is never asking the question: why exactly am I friends with this person?

Now, I don’t want any of this to be interpreted to mean that friendships are pointless or inherently fake. This is not my intention. I’m writing here not about those who truly mean something to you and for whom you would make an effort to help out. But while we’re on the subject, what about those people — what should we assume about their feelings? The mistake we make with those types of people is not the same as people we are casually ok with. The problem with those who are meaningful to us is assuming that those strong feelings are necessarily mutual.

In that case, I would argue that you would be perfectly ok in assuming that those people don’t actually like you either, because it is your activity of care demonstrated through actions that ultimately matters, not that there’s an equivalence. And I would take this an even more radical step and say that this also applies to love relationships, that Erich Fromm’s construction of love being an activity frees us from making the assumption that we have to act in mutual interest. Showing love towards another is something we can and should do without expectation — or perhaps even hope — of reciprocity.

So, there’s my cheery thought for a late Saturday night. I assume that no one likes me. And I’m ok with it.

Ed. Note Sunday morning: I’m not actually ok with it, but it holds together logically.