One moonlit night, walking on the beach during a family vacation about ten years ago, I had a conversation with my ten-year-old son and his friend (whom I will call Lawrence). There’s something about the ocean in the moonlight that seems to inspire us to wax philosophical. The boys and I talked about the things we liked and didn’t like about ourselves. Finally, Lawrence said, “But you know it’s always hard to see your own stuff.” A good insight about human nature from a child. I have been thinking of that conversation lately and wondering how come we so easily see what’s going on with other people but have such difficulty seeing our own stuff (as Lawrence put it).
I notice things about other couples, other families, other relationships that make me wonder why these people can’t see what I find so obvious. I know a couple who is miserable together and I can see that it’s time for them to separate but they don’t see it yet. They would be so much happier if they just got a divorce, but they are not ready to go down that road. I know a family where the mom puts on a stern countenance with the children and she doesn’t even realize that she is creating a mommy-persona for herself that runs counter to the loving person she really is. I wonder why she feels compelled to behave this way in her role as a mom. It’s bizarre to me. She loves her children dearly, and yet she is evolving into a bossy and hypercritical mother. I know a young man who is narrow-minded in his vision of what he does for a living. He is unwilling to consider expanding his horizons and locks himself into a job situation that isn’t working for him. Here is a couple where one person monopolizes the conversation and the other person never speaks. There is a mother who always eats from the same plate as her small son while he is clearly anxious that she will eat up the things he wants. She doesn’t see it.
I witness other people engaging in self-destructive behaviors or going in directions that are bound to make them unhappy. Sometimes people know these things about themselves but are unable to take the necessary steps to change course or transform their lives. But oftentimes people don’t even see what they are doing, don’t even recognize the changes or transformations open to them that would improve their lives. It’s a little crazy how blind we can be to our own stuff.
What a shame that we can’t successfully or effectively help one another to see this stuff more often. I would never criticize a friend’s parenting practices for fear of offending her. It’s not my place to tell a couple that I think they should get a divorce. And even if I did do something that socially inept, why should they listen to me? I have no right to criticize or advise on certain deeply personal topics. I would be overstepping bounds. It makes me wonder what there is about me, about how I conduct my life, to which I remain blind. I wonder what I don’t see that might transform my life or improve my life. Even if someone were to be bold enough to tell me what they see about this, I doubt that I could hear it because I’m inside my own reality, my own perception. I would think they are off-base and don’t understand the complexity of the situation. And I might take offense, become angry; so then what is accomplished?
If only we were as good at seeing our own stuff as we are at seeing someone else’s.