On personal files

TUESDAY, 2 MARCH 2004

We all have “files” on each other. My file on “Yolanda Y” might say she is this or that, that she likes this or that, behaves this way in this or another situation. “She has these strengths and weaknesses. Keep an eye on this or that …”

We all expect the people we know and call our friends (and on whom we therefore have “files”) to be the persons we think they are in order to facilitate our confidence and trust in them.

Sometimes our “file” versions of people do however tend toward simplistic caricatures, with certain aspects of personality emphasised for the simple reason that they fit us better than is the case with other aspects of their personality.

Beware of this – no one likes to be reduced to a caricature.

It is however true that we sometimes unconsciously encourage this process of simplification of ourselves. If a person is uncertain about his or her identity it is usually comforting when people say, “You always say (X, Y or Z),” or “You always get angry when someone does something like that,” or even “I knew you’d say that (because you always do).”

It always annoys me when people sketch me in their own minds as a simple caricature. I know I do it myself sometimes (possibly to make who I am more tolerable to people I am with?), so I cannot always blame people if they play along. The truth is that I reserve the right to feel different than I did yesterday, to act differently than I did last Sunday, and to have other interests, or to focus on different activities than what the “files” others have on me dictate.

Of course there must be a degree of resemblance between who you are today, what you say, what you do and how you act, and what the case was the day before. But these things are liquid, and change over time.

A more ideal situation would be one where our “files” on each other remain open, with broad margins for new information and mental pictures that keep pace with changes. The alternative is that we will be “friends” with caricatures who are mainly our own handiwork, and who we may find in the course of time will become “unreliable” because they “suddenly” no longer look like they used to, or say this or that or behave or react in a certain manner in some or other situation.

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