Know the One You’re With


Taking a break from my predominant running theme about “Education”, I chose to blog about relationships. Recent events have prompted me to write about why it is important to Know the One You’re With. Whether it is a sibling, child, spouse, lover, family or social network.

Plenty of us are guilty of passing judgment on others without fully knowing them. We think we can know a person merely through observing or interacting with their character, actions, interests, beliefs or experiences. If one is burbly, funny and entertaining, that person would be most likely considered happy and an extrovert, as opposed to a person with a calm demeanor. That, we did with one renown actor and comedian, till his mind boggling death revealed the cosmeticized pain and suffering he lived with from a childhood of unhappy family relations and feelings of neglect. The same is said of funny man “Nutty Professor”, who makes the world laugh, yet an introverted and gloomy around his closest family, as we learned through his divorce from ex-wife N. Mitchell.

Or perhaps we should not blame others for what they think they know about us based on our outward projections? Then again, should we really care what others think about us? Or perhaps we should expect that each on around us concerns her/himself more with getting to know those around them. I strongly believe in the value of “knowing everyone through their spoken truths”, in our quest for honest and humane relationships with those most close to us. Perhaps to spare us the resultant shock and denial that our neighbor, who grew up as an altar boy, volunteered at all community events, graduate from high school with straight  ‘As’, is the notorious village serial killer! Or the much-beloved school principal, who met and greeted kids as they entered the schoolyard every morning, was convicted of murdering his entire family of six, including his seven-month old baby and mother’s in-law! What about the shock after knowing that the dull girl from the corner shack, who never said a word in public or answered a question in class, always kept to himself, went on to win the nobel prize in literature! After all, we never expected anything profound to come from her; she was not among the popular girls, and no boy in her class wanted to date her! Right?

I say all this from personal observations, as much as from experiences. That we might not really know even those closest to us, including within our families. Perhaps we have never bothered to ask to hear their story from them; we have confidence in what we see and hear about them. We profile them according to our interpretations of their most glaring behavior, all the while ignoring the value of their own truths and subtle personality traits in making the whole person. Suddenly, we are shocked when they make life choices that do not auger with our understanding of them! Or they excel, ‘unexpectedly’!

One such person I know closely. He was the quintessential calm and quite child in his family. Nobody in his family thought he uttered a word out of his mouth, or that he could sustain a conversation! Around the family table he was the perfect listener to ever conversation, while his lips remained sealed! As a child, he was even scared of his own shadow, often bursted into screaming frenzies whenever a power outage occurred at their home at brought pitch-darkness! Incidentally, his schoolmates said he was a very entertaining and active person. At school, he and his best friend would adorn their ‘signature’ rubber-boots, stage ‘impromptu’ performances for other students, break it down to Marvin Gaye renditions, in exchange for money or something to eat.

Still at home, he was the quite kid that everyone granted his quiet amidst the noise. Until that shocking time when he fell sick with malaria, and started ‘mouthing off loud’. Initially, his family got excited about his parroting, assuming he was in recovery mood. Then his words became more rapid, signaling hallucination. Found out, when they rushed him to hospital that his fever was closing in to cerebral.

Fast forward, he goes off to college, but suddenly drops out and joined the military! His family were shell-shocked, that their quiet, timid child, scared of his own shadow was daring the hard knock military bootcamp, charged with that dreaded AK-47, spending cold nights in trenches waiting for the enemy, chasing after rebel fighters, and shooting known enemies of the state! The details of his military engagement are still scanty, but let’s just say, he was also part of the internal military intelligence!

The major details we found out about his life and interests are what he shared with us from his mouth. He proved to us that it is not enough to profile a person based on our observations and hear-say. We deserve to give each ‘horse’ a chance to tell its own his-/her-story, in order to have an informed opinion about and know him/her  truly well.

Many people put on a facade of strength, when in fact they have so many vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Growing up, I passed plenty of judgement on my mother for the decisions she made that I did not consider very sound and protective of her children, or even loving of herself. Later in life, through conversations with her where I heard her story from her mouth, I understood the choices she made. Now as a parent, I understand much more the decisions parent make, and the meaning of happiness to different people. Happiness is very relative! To a female parent, happiness might be for her child growing up close to the father, in the same geographical space with father or in the same home with the father. None of these are about her instant and personal gratification, which we have very much come to associate with happiness. Yet observers who have never walked the walk or are on the outside-looking-in might question why anyone would sacrifice happiness for the ‘harsh” uncertain conditions?

I reiterate that it is of paramount importance to know the person you are with!  We need to give people the benefit of doubt, allowing them to tell us their story from their mouths, and listening openly with no pre-judgement. Short of that, we are pandering half-truths about others, and perhaps missing a chance to develop honest relationships with people we are with by judging them based on our own conceptions of who we think they are.

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