If I remember my high school French correctly, the word for “to know” is connaitre when you are talking about knowing a person. However, “to know” is translated as savoir if you are talking about knowing something else, such as a fact or directions to the supermarket. Knowing another person and being known are deep human needs, and much of our thought is expended on these processes. This type of knowing is truly different from other types, and it deserves a word of its own.
At some point when we can tolerate the painful feelings that result from seeing our own limitations and pettiness, we begin to allow ourselves to work at understanding our own inner selves. This process is facilitated in many ways by the relationships we have, as each person we meet represents both a work of art to be savored and a mirror of our own idiosyncracies. It is in the interactions with other people that we see our own dynamic process of expressing ourselves and reacting to the world. The other person is an agent in his or her own life and the response we engender gives us a sense of how we are perceived. Of course, for that person, we are the mirror and it is our responses that express our perception of him or her.
We cannot see ourselves directly. We have only mirrors, still water, and the faces of the people around us. It is deeply gratifying, as well as urgently necessary, to be seen and understood, first of all by the people who are important to us, and ultimately by our own selves. As we explain some small experience or some existential challenge, we look for comprehension in the face of our listener. This resonance and the unique personal response to it in the other person is satisfying as any act of completion can be.
The deep pleasure of setting down our arms, halting the battle with ourselves and learning to be with the parts of ourselves which we have rejected is arrived at after much avoidance, much conflict, much yearning, and much work. We have worried that if we do not fight against the lesser parts of ourselves, we are resigning ourselves to being less than we can be. At some point, we realize this is not true. As Jack Kornfield says, “You are fine just the way you are, and there is still room for improvement.”
Fortunately, just in the nick of time, we begin to realize we are getting older. We suddenly see that we may not have time to do everything we thought we would do. We understand that we will little by little relinquish our powers, our talents, and our capacities. It is just at this moment that we begin to be complete human beings. We begin to appreciate the rich gifts of our lives, and we begin to be able to know about the complex motives, ideals, and meanings that make up our deepest unique selves. Fortunately, it is never too late to begin a journey of acquaintance with ourselves. With deep good luck, this can be together with a navigator who has a map, a serious commitment, and a sense of humor.