Reflection 15: One-upmanship

October 30, 2008

 (Copyright © 2008)

Yesterday I had surgery to remove a cataract from my right eye. Today I am going in for a follow-up visit to my ophthalmologist. On the way, my designated driver introduces me to her colleague, one I shall refer to as Dolly.


Driver. This is Steve. He is going for a checkup after cataract surgery yesterday.


Dolly. I know about cataracts. My son-in-law is an ophthalmologist. One of my best friends is an ophthalmologist in Washington D.C., actually an ophthalmologist neurosurgeon, one of only three on the East Coast.


What could I say to that? She was not interested in reading my state of mind, she was too busy broadcasting her own state with 250 kilowatts. I thought she must be nervous to introduce herself in such a heavy-handed fashion. Perhaps an only child used to ruling the roost. Assertive at any rate, and quite uninterested in meeting someone not part of the life situation she relied on to structure her interactions with strangers.


We have all had experiences like this, speaking at cross-purposes with others tuned to different wavelengths than our own. They commonly underwrite our words with their meanings, and lead the conversation off on their own tangent. When I say we live in different life worlds, I really mean it. Those respective worlds are in our heads, the seat of our identities, where they color everything we do and say. We are genetically unique, neurologically unique, experientially unique—why should we ever expect the Dollys we meet to measure up to our expectations? Or expect ourselves to fit within the envelope of their expectations? We should always ask, “What planet are you from?” Every once in a while we might meet an Earthling who shares the same frame of reference we do. If we merely assume we speak the same language, we are setting ourselves up for certain disappointment.


It is not true that our conscious minds run in parallel courses. Extended to infinity, there is no law that says they must meet at some point way out there.




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