Since following up on my own recommendation the other day to consider the implications of Johanna Seibt's article on "Process Philosophy" in the on-line Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, I was sufficiently intrigued by Alfred North Whitehead's treatment of the manner in which past processes always contain future possibility, and future possibility is thus always pregnant in the present, that I became suddenly aware of a perspective on my own contributions to process that had previously eluded me. So, as with so many things, I found that my own experience was an exemplar of something truly universal . . .
Like many others living in this cyberspace age, I find that my "catchment area" for reading is so much vaster than it used to be. However, so much of my reading is still from books, articles, newspapers, commentaries, and commentaries on commentaries, as well as from the internet, that I often cannot remember the source of any particular idea, perspective, or opinion. I have had two or three wierd experiences recently that were discombobulating (to say the least!) in relation to this.
I was reading something recently in "hard copy" form, and found that my stream-of-consciousness internal comments were starting to group themselves into admiring statements of the "that's really interesting" or "yes, I agree with that" sort, when I suddenly realized that I was unknowingly reading something that I had myself written some time previously. It was a little bit like coming across a full length mirror in a store, and seeing my own image in it as if I were a stranger. I have also, however, had the experience of reading something of which I was quite critical, and then, similarly, suddenly realizing that it was something I had written myself. "Surely, I couldn't have said that!" I think . . . and then have to accept, usually reluctantly, that I did.
Well, that's clearly disconcerting, but at the same time it's humbling. It's as if the I that wrote whatever it was is no longer the I that I experience myself as being now. And yet it is––and I am.
Some years ago, when I was teaching students of social work at UBC, it was not uncommon for my students, upon seeing themselves on videotape, to exclaim variants of "I can't believe that's me!" or "I can't believe I said that!" Even more devastating would be the experience of having been confronted by another student as having done or said a particular thing, having denied that anything of the sort was possible, and then being confronted with the video-taped evidence. (I must add that I was often no different from others in my own reactions––which I hope had the consequence of us all being a bit the wiser, and less trenchantly judgmental than before we were alerted to our incongruities.) So many of our intolerancies, I believe, are due to our failure, not to see ourselves as others see us (for they, too, can be mistaken), but to realize that we ourselves may be very different than we imagine ourselves to be.
Perhaps, indeed, our common future depends in part on whether we can truly allow ourselves to see ourselves? (And perhaps to forgive ourselves, and others, too, for making it so hard to do so?)
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