From time to time I wonder about the gravity that people exert in their personal lives. Yesterday, for example, while I was at services, one of my friends looked at my face and wondered if I wanted to talk, and so we spent a few minutes chatting about her guitar playing and how it works for the hymns and how much it is a struggle to learn how to play songs for her on the guitar relative to other instruments that our ensemble could have. What struck me about it was that she was able to guess that I had something to chat about from looking at my face. Apparently I have a “we need to talk” face that I am unaware of. From time to time there are people who surprise me by being able to read my expressions well and to respond accordingly. I suppose being an expressive person, even if I am fairly restrained in communicating what I feel, tends to mean that other people have clues as to what is going on inside my head if anyone is interested in spending the time to pay attention and figure things out.
One of the more poignant aspects of the Hunger Games series for me was the way that I was able to identify with the uber-Appalachian Katniss Everdeen, which is perhaps not the best thing. One of the ways that I was able to identify with her, and it is relevant to this discussion, is that in the book, she claims not to have secrets because other people know her secrets before she does. I have personally, much to my embarrassment, found that to be the case with me as well. Other people are aware of my secrets before I am, and as a result it has always been particularly worthless for me to be particularly sneaky in my own personal dealings because other people are aware of what I would want to hide before it comes to my attention. Indeed, at times the way I react to things has let others know things that I was not aware of personally. I am not sure if this is a common problem or if the labyrinthine ways of my own personality present difficulties that are somehow outside of the ordinary.
Many of the complaints in this world about issues of power and privilege deal with the asymmetry of gravity in interactions. Those who lack power in a given relationship have a high motivation of learning about others so as to better please them or stay out of their way while those who have high power tend not to be particularly interested in knowing very much about those they boss around. Not knowing how someone responds to our interactions, and not caring, because we are powerful enough that we do not need to care, is one of the factors that encourages us to gain power. Not only that, but if we gain enough power, we can force people to care about our feelings even as we tend not to care about theirs, all of which tends to create resentment. These are not new problems, and have remained problems as long as human beings have been organized together. And they remain problems regardless of the identity of those who gain power, contrary to the expectations of many contemporaries.
Yet these issues remain difficult. How do we prevent ourselves from deceiving ourselves that we generally care about and respect others rather than wishing so? How do we know both others and ourselves, with the tangle of motivations that typically undergirds our behavior? This is hard in the best of circumstances. It is harder when human beings are engaged in simultaneous self-deception and the hypocritical denunciation of others for that which we are guilty of. In such a climate recognizing the truth and admitting it is highly unlikely, to say nothing of admitting that it is a problem that is not limited by race or gender or any other factor. And determining the nature of the gravity of interactions, and how it is that others feel and what motivates those feelings and their behavior, is by no means an easy task, even when we want to know and others are willing to say.