Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Because Virtual is also Real: What’s Authenticity Anyway?

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Irvin Yalom reminds us of the complexity of human beings. Since categorization allows us “neither [to] identify nor nurture the parts, the vital parts, of the other that transcends category” (Yalom, 1989, p. 185). In life, as in research, we often use categorization to support our analysis, but we should never forget that this categorization is constructed and even imposed, and there is much more that lies beyond it, and we must realize that “the other is never fully knowable” (Yalom, 1989, p. 185′ the book is called Love’s Executioner)

We all have multiple personalities that  evolve (I have such postmodern sensibilities but this seems like a fact to me). Take ur own self and ur own identity and tell me that life and experiences don’t change who you are…they do, right? Sometimes in fundamental ways, sometimes not. The birth of a child, the involvement in a human tragedy, the inspiration from a trabsformative book, the encounter with a wise stranger, the struggle with illness, the involvement in scandal, the loss of a loved one, the attention from admirers, the harassment from haters – all these things influence who we are and how we behave.

When we know someone we have never met in physical space we tend to doubt that we truly “know” them. I am starting to realize this makes absolutely no sense at all.

When we know someone f2f, we could spend years, several hours a week or even many hours in a day, and still not know everything about them. Or we may think we know them, and something can happen…and their reaction can be completely different from what we expected. Heck, our own reactions aren’t always what we expect them to be. Who knew I wouldn’t cry the day my dad died? I didn’t. And knowing that, I wasn’t able to predict how I would react when another loved one died.

Knowing someone online is slightly different but no less real.

In a way, we have some control over which aspects of ourselves we share online. In that sense, we get to know someone online on their own terms, somewhat, by behaviors they make observable, rather than behavior we observe more “naturally”. However, I wouldn’t create a dichotomy here. Because we do this f2f, too. Just like we behave differently at work than we do at a family dinner and at a party…so behave differently on Facebook than on Twitter than on email.

So there’s this. There’s the joy I felt in meeting people I had known online for quite some time. And they were all the same or pleasantly more than I expected, never less. But if any of them behave differently from what we expect, it’s not because we don’t know them well just because we know them virtually. It’s because we as humans never truly know the whole of another person or understand the history of all that has influenced them in their lives.

We can know someone more or less. We can know a lot about their behavior or a little about their motives and values. We can know more or less about someone, but we never truly know them absolutely. I am not even sure we know ourselves absolutely. Who knew?

Thanks to Simon Ensor, Alan Levine, Stephanie Loomis, Helen DeWaard for keeping these ideas running thru my head long enough to write this

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