Two girls walked past me, absorbed in a juicy conversation. I caught the words “lip injection” and immediately came to a conclusion about them, but then I realized I had no reason to believe I knew what these girls are talking about. For the first time in a while, I was mindful of my quick judgement.
These two students were discussing something—maybe celebrity gossip, maybe radical future plans, maybe medically innovative solutions to cancer. Whatever it was, a snippet of their conversation entered my brain and, upon reflection, I realized that I literally don’t know anything about these people, and that we’re are all thrown together clumsily in this hodgepodge of society. The world does not revolve around me. We all, in our insignificant forms, spin in random directions and revolve around each other. Increasingly I realize that there is so little I understand. But then again, understanding everything is not the point.
When we assume we know every side of a story we ignore the gaps in our knowledge. But at some point we are forced to confront these gaps: it's the familiar feeling when we get midterms back, when we let something revealing slip, or when we realize the weaknesses in our side of an argument during a heated debate. Regardless of what perspective we have, we'll never see the whole picture. In acknowledging this, though, we at least inch closer to a panoramic view. For me, it took talk of lip injections.
What matters is understanding that when it comes to what we know about other people, our understanding is very limited. I recently discovered that one of my peers from business camp last summer was not just the wisecrack I knew him to be was also a cancer survivor. Upon graduation, I learned that my friend from elementary school—the one I knew as an expert origami crafter and bright biology student—was grappling with a debilitating disease in the family. I also found that my Starbucks-loving, aspiring geneticist friend had faced numerous encounters with homophobia while growing up queer. Here at Pomona I have gotten to know some genuine and amazing people and later found they had been anonymously honored in President Oxtoby's commencement speech.
From all this, I've learned that there is no single part of a person that defines theirwhole identity—there is always another facet left undiscovered, and the moment we discover that it dawns on us that there are thousands more.
As long as we remember that we usually don't know others as well as we think we do, we will understand more. Maybe not of others, and maybe not even of ourselves, but we will understand more of something, and it will be worth it.