From Milan (Italy) we headed north to Lake Como for a hiking day trip. When we arrived in the small town of Como, we were overwhelmed by the huge amount of other tourists. Mid-January seemed to be an odd time for high season. Anyway, I took this incident as a source of inspiration for a new article about an element of our environment that all of us have gotten emotional about at some point in our lives (and if only in a traffic jam): other people.
Having traveled from metropolis to metropolis, we were not only surprised but downright shocked to see so many people in Como. It was only in hindsight that we looked more closely at this experience: Why is it that we conceive of others as bothering? How is it that there are times when we find it difficult to accept that “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”?
L’enfer, c’est les autres. (= Hell is other people.)
This is what Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in “Huis Clos” (“No Exit”). If there has ever been a worldwide trend to see other people as hell, then it must have been mass tourism that was responsible for the fast rise of backpacking. In the same way, Western societies have become prone to “social isolation”, “social phobia”, and phenomena of similar calling that suggest that the individual has become detached from the community.
To provide just another example: When Gratsi and I spent a few weeks in Varna (Bulgaria) last year, we often took a cab at night, and we would listen countless times to a song called “Other people” (by LP) on the radio. When I recently looked up the lyrics of this song, I was not surprised to find out that they portray other people as generally bad, albeit in the context of bigamous relationships.
Or think, for example, about the numerous times you have been stuck in a traffic jam, and thought to yourself “Damn all these people who block the streets.” Now, stop here for a second and notice that the person behind you was thinking just the same thing. This is only to say that the argument of other people getting in your way is generalizable only at the cost of your responsibility (or, as I like to call it, response-ability) for your situation.
If all drivers think “I’m stuck in traffic”, then all drivers are part of the traffic.
In other words, if you find the existence of other people unpleasant, they might equally think the same about you.
Now, how do you get out of that? What would happen, if you suddenly found the existence of other people highly stimulating or even wonderful? As in the example above, they might equally think the same about you. Could you, then, imagine that you may benefit just as much from being around friends as from being around strangers? Visualize for a second that you live inside a bubble, and that, as you perceive your environment, you cannot but judge from inside your bubble. We could also say that you are always interpreting as you, no matter what.
When you meet a stranger and agree to take on his/her perspective, you literally widen your world as your bubble grows by the size of the stranger’s bubble. You are not interpreting as you anymore, because you have allowed yourself to think like someone who is different from you. The more perspectives you gain, the more different ways you possess to reflect on one and the same thing. You are enabling yourself to draw on a collective intelligence while it’s you alone who makes the decision. There is a saying that every person you meet is either your friend or your teacher, and I have just explained why everyone who is not (yet) your friend can certainly always be your teacher.
We ended up having a great day in Como, climbing up to the village of Brunate (715m). We were very fortunate to meet two women who were so kind to take pictures of us in front of an amazing Alpine landscape. Also, we relied on a number of people when we had to find the right way up to Brunate. How would our day have looked like without all those people?
For, after all, it is other people who made us who we are today. Whether we agreed or disagreed with them – in either case, our choices depended on them. Thus, if we are not alone on earth like a Robinson Crusoe, then I see no use in pretending that we are.
Go beyond your knowledge.
P.S.: Check out our route map to see where we are!