I remember an instance in my early 20s. The days when I and my friends would strut the famously trendy Kings Road in the London borough of Chelsea, like the cool dudes we thought we were. On this day, I saw a lady friend across the road…or at least I thought it was her. Excited, I ran across the road with my arms aloft in anticipation of a big hug from someone I hadn’t seen in ages. But the closer I got to her, the less it looked like her. “Ah! What should I do now?” I had to think fast. Being the smart boy that I was, I just continued running until I ran past her, still smiling, still excitedly waving my arms in the air as if it was someone else I was running to meet all along. Of course, because there wasn’t actually anybody else, I had to just keep running until I found myself out of view of anyone who could have seen how I initially ran across the road with so much excitement. I must have looked so silly. I certainly felt it. And as a man about town in those days, my street cred was at stake too. What if anyone I knew had seen me? If memory serves me well, I paid a visit to the optician the following week and purchased the pair of glasses I had foolishly avoided getting all those years. I can just imagine the thoughts that must have run through the minds of the other pedestrians on the famously busy road, that day. “There goes another one who’s gone cuckoo. Maybe it’s the weather that’s got to him? Or he’s probably been smoking some of that funny stuff.” You know how people think. Heck! At my age now, I would probably think the same.
One crucial lesson that my five and a half decades on this earth has taught me is that we can’t really say we know people until we get close to them. From afar, most seem great but the more you get to know them, the more they seem less like the person you thought you knew. I’m not necessarily saying they fall short of your initial assessment or even exceed it, just different to our previously held impression. It goes without saying that people must have said the same about me too. After all, I’m as human as the next person. Another mistake we’re prone to make as human beings is to exempt ourselves of “faults” we see in others. It’s quite natural for us not to see those things in ourselves as no one really interacts with himself in that sense. It would however be unwise for us to hastily conclude that we’re totally free of such “faults”, based only on our own perception of ourselves. Just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.
A partnership I got involved in to establish a business several years ago was an experience. My partner and I got on relatively well and I thought we were friends but I later had to reconsider that assumption. This in part, is due to the fact that he never called me after I withdrew from the business. A business which I must add is still going strong today. Okay, except for one occasion, not long after I left, when he wanted me to do him a favour. Having built up a good rapport with the local government officials who I had more dealings with while I was still involved in the business, he wanted me to intervene in a small matter. I obliged. Following that, I reached out a couple of times for old times sake but when it dawned on me that my efforts were not being reciprocated, I moved on. I opted to look at it philosophically and reached the conclusion that ours was obviously one of those relationships that was never meant to be an enduring one. That’s life. Not all relationships are meant to last forever. That’s something I believe most of us must have heard one time or the other but in this case I was witnessing it “live”. Once we’re able to come to that stark and sometimes brutal realization about relationships, such things will have less capacity to hurt us.
It would be uncharitable and not entirely honest of me to say I didn’t benefit anything from our association though. Apart from gaining fantastic insight from a very astute businessman and administrator, I learned a couple of other things too. First, you cannot claim to truly know someone until you take a closer walk with them. Second, it’s a grave mistake to think people will see me the same way I see myself. Two vital lessons from the school of hard knocks, I must say. But do you know what the interesting thing is? On that day when I nearly made a fool of myself by running all smiles towards someone I thought I knew, all those around might have seen me very differently to how I saw myself. Come to think of it, they may not even have seen me at all. Why do I think those going their own way in the dead of winter, with only God knows what on their minds, would take the slightest bit of interest in what one young black chap was doing? Just because I was embarrassingly aware of the mistake I had made and felt foolish about it, didn’t automatically mean the eyes of the whole world was on me. Even though it certainly felt that way. Well, only God can really say.