I was feeling feral the other day. A little edgy, a little hypervigilant, a little thin-skinned, and a little aggressive. The word “feral” seemed to sum all that up which is why I threw it out in response to the “how are you” query made by an acquaintance.
I knew I’d made a mistake when I saw her expression of extreme incomprehension. Apparently “feral” is not something she does. But it got me wondering.
Am I so different from other people? Do I simply need, as my therapist recently suggested, a new or at least expanded circle? How is it possible that she didn’t feel my feels, that she didn’t “get” me?
I thought I saw a ghost the other day. Which is odd, because unless I’m in the house alone and it’s late at night and I hear an odd noise, I mostly don’t believe in ghosts.
I was sitting under the back deck, looking out at the winter yellow grass and watching squirrels climb the tree skeletons when a shimmer passed across my field of vision to the left. A hazing of the shrubs in that line of site, a moving blur.
I looked up into the trees and saw it again. It then drifted left to the back corner of the yard. I was puzzled by my ghost; it kept jumping around all over the place, lacking rhyme and reason. I tried for a few minutes to contact the spirit with the power of my mind before I realized what was really going on.
In my field of vision was not a spectre from another dimension but threads floating in the fluid in my eyeball. They grow as you age, microscopic and for the most part harmless protein strands. Sometimes, though, you see them.
Sometimes, before you analyze things, you might think they’re ghosts.
That’s when I realized the truth about my feral claim. It’s not that I’m so different. It’s that people don’t share a common reality. We don’t “see” what other people see. Our realities overlap most of the time, but sometimes, as in the case of the “feral” comment, we have no universal ground.
We assume we have a shared and common interpretation of the world. We actually have no way of knowing if that’s true. We use language to describe our world and we agree that this word will represent that thing. But we have no way of knowing if we perceive things in ways that are even remotely similar.
What I see and agree to as an orange and what you see and agree to as an orange might be totally perceptually different and we will never, can never know. I find that fascinating.
It isn’t an “everyone else” problem either.
I make assumptions too. I make the mistake of assuming that everyone is basically like me, that people see things like me, think like me, believe the things I believe, feel the same feels, and hold the same values. I’m legitimately shocked when evidence shows up to prove this isn’t the case.
I’m surprised when people don’t react in the same way, or come to the same conclusions, or evaluate that sunset in exactly the same way, or have the same emotional reaction to this or that story. But differences aren’t a problem; my expectations of commonality and a certain basic uniformity are.
We are all different. We say things like that all the time. But mostly we are talking about surface traits. We have different skin colours. We make different fashion choices. We drive different cars and have different spiritual practices. I know this. And yet part of me expects us to be alike under the skin for no other reason than I think it should be so.
But other people are not me. They are not going to be me or do they things I want or believe the things I believe just because I think it should be so. We see the world differently at a fundamental level. We can always look for the common ground but it’s important to remember we are not one and the same.
After all, no one but me can see my ghosts.