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After assessing many events throughout my life, I have learned that whenever I think I am playing someone, it’s usually a sure sign that I am getting played.
In my early twenties, I spent an incredible night with a woman who was not prone to carry on sexual affairs with my gender. For her, it was a spontaneous night of curiosity. True to idiotic form, I, of course, fell in love. Obviously, I was barking up the wrong tree, but the pain from that unrequited love produced a beautiful song. It was one of those moments in my life where I transcended all my previous songwriting efforts, so I spent the afternoon doing bong hits and listening to the playback over and over.
My neighbor in the upstairs apartment had recently come here from Manhattan to model for fine arts classes. She was the type of woman I made a concerted effort not to look at for too long. She was taller than me, lump-in-the-throat gorgeous, and hung out with the cool kids.
But as the song wafted through our building on repeat, she assumed, for some reason, that I had written it for her. I didn’t find it necessary to correct her assumption, and that night we made crazy passionate love. Of course, I felt a little guilty for misleading her by omission but at that age c’est la vie was my mission statement.
Well, I’m not going to go into too much detail about how this all turned out, but I will say that I was the one who got the raw end of the deal. It’s a miracle I lived long enough to figure out that I was the mark and not the con.
Fast-forward decades later. I received a DM from a Facebook friend who told me that even though she was involved, she couldn’t help picking up on the vibes I was giving off and, truth be told, she was having the same feelings. But I wasn’t giving off any vibes—or at least not any vibes that I don’t disperse evenly to all the women I’m friends with. However, much like the song, I didn’t correct her. I saw an opening and I charged forward.
Years later, I realize that she most likely knew that I wasn’t giving off any special vibes. She was at the end of the road in her relationship and moving somewhere new sounded like an exciting adventure. So, she set the wheels in motion by allowing me to feel like I was being a romantic opportunist.
Neither of those situations would not have been terrible if they weren’t…terrible. I can remember taking a week of vacation and helping “Ms. I Feel Your Vibes” move all of her possessions into my apartment. Within the first 10 seconds of unlocking the front door, she looked at my kitchen and living room the way most people look at a PT Cruiser on a used car lot. We lasted a few months, but in that very first moment, I knew it was over. The official end seemed like it was just a formality.
It is my theory, after the dozens of years I’ve spent on this planet, that a majority of us don’t have a clue about all the parts that are constantly moving around us. In a general sense, we only have the ability to see the world unfold before us through a limited perception. This often becomes obvious when two people are at odds with each other, especially since there are three elements at play: one person’s narrative, the other person’s narrative, and what actually happened.
Let’s break down a list of scientific facts that prove why you and I and everyone else in this great big world are totally unaware of nearly everything happening around us:
1. Our perception of ourselves is almost always wrong.
Introspection is an illusion, according to Princeton University psychologist Emily Pronin. Most people tend to exaggerate their own generosity and downplay their faults. From this, they construct a definition of who they are, which is often not terribly accurate.
2. Most of us unknowingly deceive ourselves every day.
There was a simple study done by Brown University professor Dr. Steven A Sloman where he’d tell a person, “Someone with a high IQ will ace this test” or “Schizophrenic people do well on this,” and nearly every participant adjusted their level of effort based on the idea of themselves they were trying to achieve. This sounds obvious, of course, but it proved one important thing: self-deception is so ingrained within us, we’re often not even aware of it. Why? If a person adjusts their effort to gain a certain outcome, that outcome cannot possibly be accurate.
3. We are not conscious of our own motives.
This is an area near and dear to my heart. The person who is forever complaining they keep getting involved with the wrong partners. The one who consistently breaks off relationships after three months. This person never realizes that they are driven into the same pickle over and over because they are being victimized by their own unknown motivations, usually fear of abandonment or rejection. If you asked them though, the answer would be because that one was too insecure, that one was a narcissist, that one smelled weird, and so on.
4. We can never know how we affect everyone in our lives.
There is a complicated ripple effect that we could never fully comprehend. It follows us through our lives and even into death. So, we may feel rock solid about where we fit into this world or how little our influence might be in the grand scheme of things, but again, it’ll never be accurate. At my job this week, we all said goodbye to each other at the end of the day on Wednesday and one of us didn’t make it back on Thursday. He died in a car wreck on the way home. Each of us made changes in our lives after that—of this, I am sure. How could this person possibly know how his death changed so many things around him? My point is that it’s best not to try and assess our importance or lack thereof because it’s impossible to fully comprehend.
5. Most people don’t have a clue how much they don’t know.
I know this can be hard to swallow, but most people who are not terribly skilled in a certain area are also not skilled in their ability to know how unskilled they are. This is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger Effect and one need only scroll through social media for a few minutes to see it in full effect. Have you ever tried to point out to someone that the price of fuel is $11 a gallon in Hong Kong? Or that an AR-15 will not protect them from “government oppression”? It’s a losing battle. As the phenomena suggests, if the person knew enough about the way the world works, they’d know enough to know they don’t really know.
But they don’t know. Nobody does, in fact. And while it may be disconcerting to realize that we are all fairly clueless about our reality and the reality of others, there is also a strange comfort to it. All we need to do is embrace it.