It’s 10:30 PM and I really wanted to tuck in early so I don’t waste away my day sleeping. Yet when the True Friend sent me a certain message, I couldn’t help but write this while sitting on my bed, cat licking herself at my side with the dog lying dead on the ground. There was a bit of a storm outside, but at the moment everything is, as we say in Afrikaans, doodstil (deadsilent).
One wall which I’ve noticed for years which everyone has, is the wall of perceptions. We meet someone new and for a while we observe that person. Then, when we think we have known them long enough, we stop observing that person. We create a sort of profile of that person – never open to change – which we open each time we think about them.
For instance, Jack might be a rather silent guy with an interest in astronomy and a lesser interest in geography. You noticed that the few times you asked him to go out with you, he declined. So you think he is probably a shy fellow – and perhaps he is. A few years later Jack has changed. His primary interests are now apologetics and philosophy. He has a new leash on life: he likes to go out to new places and to be with friends. You do not notice how drastically he has changed. Sure you might see him reading a book on apologetics once in a while, but in your eyes he is still the same old shy Jack. You never bothered to reconsider your original perception of him. Hell, a few times he told you about this or that place, or this and that friend, yet you never click that now he actually does like to go out. People never change, you know.
This is my situation. In fact, I half unconsciously viewed myself as Jack as I typed the previous paragraph. At school, up to around 16, I was a genuinely shy guy. I always studied and I always obeyed the teachers. At 16 I had a major operation which had one effect of eliminating my shyness, yet I still remain rather silent not out of shyness, but rather because I realised four things: One, I’m still not as clear as I should be vocally. Second, people just don’t understand me. Whether I speak, or write, or whatever… they just don’t understand me. Third, I cannot speak clearly in loud places. Fourth, I love to go out with people I know (whether individually or in big groups), but I don’t like going out in big groups with people I don’t know. I don’t like it solely because I am most comfortable when I know people. That way I can have meaningful discussions and not just small-talk.
For a while (from 16 to 18) I was a bit of a legalist in my Christian views. I got saved at 16 and I think I took it a bit too far in that my two best friends started to get the wrong idea that I am telling them they are doing things which are wrong because I’m cold when in fact it was because I really cared. This is a significant point which I’ll touch on later.
Since last year I’ve been studying international politics at university. This year the Best Friend and I stay(ed) together at a flat near varsity (though he goes to a technikon). Last year I was really holed up in my room – cut off from everyone. This year I wanted to explore, but as I didn’t have a car it was a bit difficult. More than once I talked about this coffee place or that pizza place or this restaurant or the museum or a park and so many times did I tell him of movies coming out that we should watch… yet rarely did we go out. Once we went to a mall, but he was so hasty to get back. Only at the end of the year did he suggest we try out that pizza place, but at that moment I was broke. Instead, when we did eat out it was always at the same damn place he liked.
Before I continue I need to sketch a brief account of his personality. Describing him is a very difficult thing so I’ll stick to only the points relevant to this post. He, along with my other best friend, always talked about going out (though they rarely did) and always said things other guys would say. I recall how in school they said I should “get out more” and “live a little”. He would say how he would do all of this or that on vacation, but the one time he went with me to the coast he always slept until late, watched DOTA videos on YouTube constantly and disliked being at the beach. Now I love them both so don’t think I’m insulting them, but that vacation showed me that in terms of being alive and “going out” he is a hypocrite (the same happened at different vacations with him).
Are you beginning to see the problem of the perceptions here? In both the cases of the vacation and our flat? In his eyes I am the “dead” one while he is “outgoing”. Yet that’s obviously not the case. The exact reverse is true.
A short while ago I played Counter Strike with my other best friend. He wanted to play a competitive match. I don’t like them because of their seriousness and having to talk to serious unknown people especially as I have a slight speech defect. When I declined he said that I should “meet more people” and “come out more”. Then I thought, he is the one stuck at his mother’s home studying a pathetic diploma on digital art at a private college while I’m at university, about to go sleep over at a friend’s house so we can go watch a live show of Bethel, buying and making my own food, going on errands with a female friend of mine through the neighbourhood, and having serious dicussions on the existence of Good with an atheist friend of mine. And that does not even include some “lesser” friends. But I should “get out more” and “meet new people”.
Perceptions, damn it. I realised that every time he asked me what I was doing I replied “studying”, “reading” or “wasting time”. So in his head he got the idea that I was locked up all day. The same applies to the True Friend. The only time he sees me is when I’m in my room in the flat. I finish way earlier than he does so I’m almost always there when he is. And obviously neither is he aware of my activities on campus.
Slightly off topic but on topic, the last year or so my faith in Christ has become more real and more… patient. I’m more empathetic, less legalistic (though still committed to Right and Wrong) and generally more helpful rather than bashful. Now keep in mind that the True Friend is also a born-again Christian, though very lazy in this regard – never willing to change or seek out answers. Yet ever time I would try to steer a discussion with him to the topic of God, I can sense the fact that he still sees me as that legalist of yesteryear. As some Pharisee who acts all holy with some spiritually condescending view of him. And that is not the case at all.
You may or may not be aware of this, but there have been enormous student protests in South Africa and as a result my classes have been cancelled for a month. As a result I am at home while the True Friend is at the flat as his classes restarted this week. Yesterday he said that he might want to stay at his aunt’s house as he does not want to stay there alone. Tonight I received a message “What are you doing tonight?”. After I said that I’m not doing much, he replied by sending a photo and explaining that he is at a bar nearby the flat with “friends”.
This made me think about two things, or three actually. One, I might be totally wrong but I think he is thinking about how he is “getting out” while I was always “boring”, but I might be wrong here so I won’t hold imaginary ideas against him. Secondly, what was he trying to prove? That he has a life while I do not (not that I agree)? Thirdly, who the hell are those friends and why does he call them “friends”? The only friends he has over there are two or three of his fellow students at his college, far away from that bar. Also, why tell me that they are his friends? Is he afraid that I will think he is going out of boredom and therefore I need to know that he is really just going with “friends”. Or is he trying to say in a more general sense that he has friends I’m not aware of? I noticed how he likes to purposely hide things so that when I pique him on it he can show I am so totally wrong on who he is.
It is so damn hard to get through this wall of perception they have of me. And I’m totally aware of the fact that I also have some on them – you might even notice some of mine in this post. The difference is that I’m aware of the fact. Why can’t they just see me for who I am?
A year ago I had a friend of mine had a whatsapp status which summed it up clearly: Your perceptions are the windows through which you view the world. Wipe them clean once in a while.