By Patricia Baer
Recently, I was introduced to a new collaborator who I had actually met once before. Upon introduction, the person proclaimed that we knew each other because we had worked together on a project 20 years ago. She was right. We had worked together, but I found it odd, based on the jovial tone used, to be regarded as someone familiar.
After life’s journeys—the adventurous ups and downs experienced that are the catalyst for personal growth—I barely recognize myself from two decades ago. So it seemed strange that anyone else would believe they could. A better word choice would have been that she remembered me, not that she knew me.
I am just as guilty for this casual use of recognition. Occasionally while watching a movie or a TV show, I will see an actor in a minor role whose path I crossed while working in theatre from my D.C. days. Excitedly I will announce to whomever’s listening, “I know him!”
The truth is that I know nothing about that actor on the screen. Sure, I might be able to offer a list of his credits or recount a funny story I heard secondhand, but the reality is I have no knowledge of his childhood experiences, why he became an actor, or even what his next acting gig will be. But once, maybe, I engaged in small talk with him during a rehearsal break in the office of the theater where I was working.
Again, a better description of our relationship would be, “I’ve met him.”
When you think about it, there are only a handful of people we truly “know.” Even in this age of everyone sharing everything online, those status updates and selfies are specifically chosen by the posters to promote a persona of themselves. They have selected the information they feel comfortable sharing with their network.
The same is true of our co-workers. We pick and choose how intimate to be with them. We may believe we have a good grasp of their psyche because they share how they spent their weekend or what family dilemmas they have encountered, but we all have something about ourselves we prefer to preserve as our own, whether it be our hopes, wishful dreams, regretful memories, or dark secrets.
That limited access, that deficit of genuine intimacy with another person is what makes it truly special when you realize you do actually “know” someone. It is a privilege when a person cracks open the door to their inner thoughts, those not usually expressed aloud, to trust you enough to allow you to share time in their private space. Not “knowing” everyone makes it more cherished to know those few that you do.