I read a story not long ago about a man whose life was saved by something I like to call interspection. This man was fresh out of the military and subsequently entered a downward spiral ending with his decision to kill himself. The night he planned to commit suicide he walked around his neighborhood one last time taking in the sights when he happened upon a woman crying in the rain. Instead of going on about his business like many of us would do, he spoke to her, checked on her, and eventually asked her if she wanted to get out of the nasty weather and have a cup of coffee. The two of them walked over to a diner across the street and talked for a good long while about all sorts of topics. They laughed and pondered life, traded stories, and for a little while forgot about their respective problems. After he came back from a quick trip to the bathroom, he found that she had disappeared on him. In the article I read, this man had recently posted an ad looking to get in touch with this woman because after a full life, he wanted her to know he thought about her from time to time even more than 40 years later, and that the connection he felt in that diner is what gave him the will to go on living.
Interspection is powerful stuff.
We all know what it means to be introspective, to explore our own depths, thoughts, and emotions, but when two people (or more) apply that same level of exploration and scrutiny to one another, you get interspection. Like the man in the story I read, interspection requires letting down your walls and allowing a person see you for who you are and seeing them for who they are as well. It’s a process unencumbered by the usual detachments and baggage that we typically bring to social relationships after a lifetime of experiences. With interspection, you willingly make yourself vulnerable allowing another human being to see a part of yourself that very rarely gets recognition while simulataneously peeling back the layers to reveal that part of someone else.
In that process, you learn a lot about that person but you also begin to realize new information about yourself. You see parts of yourself reflected in that someone else, and you begin to notice things about you that need growth and improvement. It’s natural of course to compare ourselves to others as a way to measure our own selves, a process that begins typically in middle childhood, but this, interspection , is more than a simple compare and contrast type of effort. With interspection, you also form a bond unlike anything you’ve experienced before it. It’s not love or friendship though those can certainly be a side effect; it’s a strengthening of the ties of humanity that reside within us all and a true exchange of empathy.
We live in a world currently where people seem like shimmering apparitions lacking real substance and a full form. You friend someone on social media to get 140 character quips and anecdotes for likes and shares. Photo highlight reels scroll across tiny screens to show us a moment here and there, but is that humanity? Can you capture the full essence of a human being in a couple sentences and a photo here and there? Or even in letters that talk about what happened that week and what the weather is like? I don’t think so. I picture the people I know and even with my deep desire for interspective relationships, I mostly get flickering shapes of others built on the tiny bits of life they’re willing to share with us all… We are always too busy, too absorbed with our own selves and too caught up in daily life to stop for just one moment and truly let go with another human being. We love but keep secrets. We marry but keep up our walls and defenses. We have unbreakable bonds with our children yet still hold back the truths of our existence from them. We are all but ghosts to one another searching for a connection but not able to grasp anything solid.
The lack of connection we feel to others, that inability to full grasp onto those ties that bind us to other human beings is painful not only to ourselves but all of society. When very few people in the world take on solid form, when we fail to be able to truly put ourselves in another person’s shoes and see the world from their eyes instead of just our own, it becomes far too easy to dehumanize others even entire groups of people. It becomes all too easy to become desensitized to the plights other people might face and to care only for the things that are within our own reach. What we lose by focusing on ourselves and our own daily struggles is the critical piece to the puzzle that could begin to mend some of the violence and oppression that plagues our society as it stands now.
Interspection can change that. When we enter the world intent on letting ourselves be vulnerable and intent on strengthening our ties to other human beings on the deepest of levels, we foster empathy, compassion, and even our own humanity. We recognize ourselves in others, but, perhaps for the first time, we also begin to see what it could be like living their life and having their experiences. Opening up in such a way comes with its risks, but the benefits, for each person and all of society, could be incredible. Every interspective relationship could reach far beyond its own two participants rippling out and changing how each person interacts with others, shaping worldviews, and altering the fabric that connects us all to one another.
Take a deep breath, let your walls down with someone, and watch the world metamorphose.