Knowing Me Knowing You
"If I don't know I don't know, I think I know.
If I don't know I know, I think I don't know."
- R. D. Laing, Knots
"The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure
and the intelligent are full of doubt."
- Bertrand Russell
Knowing one another is such an inexact art. Especially in a secondary society, where most of our daily interactions are conducted with people with whom we have no intimate understanding. Between helper and helped, how much knowing counts as knowing?
For me personally, it helps to think of such interpersonal knowing along a continuum of four predominating levels. These four levels correspond with a Native American (and other cultures’) conception of the human being as four integral parts: body, mind, heart, and spirit. When taken as depths of what can be known of one another, these form four layers of interpersonal communication.
Body Communication. Body language predominates here, but also trite comments of safe interactions. “How are you today?” elicits, “Fine, thank you.” Or a polite smile, or simple nod. The intent to remain social is about all that gets revealed. It is the least disclosing and the most typical form of interpersonal communication in contemporary society. As Mehrabian’s oft quoted research indicated, the bulk of communication occurs at this more readily visible layer.
Mind Communication. Thoughts shared run a little deeper than body language, to reveal what one thinks about a topic. When disputed, one can readily adjust to new information. The easier a challenged thought can be changed the less likely it touches on something personal. Not until we venture into shared opinions, where one tends to be invested in their beliefs. In fact, expressing an opinion may test the waters for how safe it might be to start revealing those less alterable aspects of oneself, one’s feelings.
Heart Communication. Emotional self-disclosure exposes deeper aspects of the self. From this Native American paradigm, emotions are “need communication.” Emotion is the body naturally reporting how something is out of balance and may require some action to restore equilibrium. Experience of need is more difficult to alter than a shared thought. There is vulnerability in exposing my needs, like what am I doing about it and what does that may mean for the other. But when another does know my feeling and glimpse my need, and still affirms me, it engenders more sharing of emotion.
Spirit Communication. A sense of profound connection is readily enjoyed between two or more persons who continually express their emotions and become trustworthy in their responsiveness. Their mirror neurons kick in, to instantaneously know one another’s needs before being fully expressed. Consistent responsiveness reliably resolving one another’s needs creates desirable feelings, thoughts and body language. Knowing one another at this level tends to bring the most out of human potential, and the yearning for a meaningful life.
For most of and most of the time, social interactions remain at the safe level of least self-disclosure. With colleagues, we readily share our thoughts, but remain cautious about revealing our honest feelings. Few of us enjoy the benefit of a fully trustworthy confidant with whom we can safely feel vulnerable, and yet valued. What can be result of such "normative alienation" upon our individual and collective wellness?
It occurs to me the demand for counselors in modern societies culturally replaces the supply of once vibrant tribal communities. In those primary societies, more opportunities existed to traverse these layers. Community members enjoyed more opportunities to intimately know others, and be intimately known while valued. And there were fewer occasions for existential crises.
Rather than trust counseling to fill this void, counselors spur clients to better know themselves. Then serve as a catalyst for clients to deeper understandings of others. Finally enjoying empathy, it can be easier to empathize with others. At last being heard, it can be easier to listen more intently to others. It may be the first time a client has been calmly challenged, encouraged to stretch, while warmly affirmed. Until the client is modeled such growth affirming behaviors, too often for them it’s nemo dat quod non habet—they cannot offer what they do not have.
Counselors may not have much of a chance to fill that void. Brief counseling unlikely affords opportunity to develop a communion level of knowing. Or perhaps should it. Maybe it’s best to model the possibilities of these deeper levels, and encourage the client to replicate deeper levels of interpersonal knowing with those with whom they are most intimate. Perhaps the best part of being known at any level is building confidence in relating at deeper levels. Knowing me is ultimately about knowing you.