by Monim Wains
I am a ghost in the machine.
I am not you, and you are not me. Each of us is unique, different, maybe even special, in our own special way. We are all the results of our actions and thoughts, dreams and regrets, and every single one of us is a sole individual, empowered to make the most of each of our lives.
I am afraid of such a focus on individuality. It creates a distance between people when everyone is trying to express their uniqueness. Though, undoubtedly, every person has their own story, with complexity and detail that could never truly be shared or understood completely, we kid ourselves if we think that we are really unique. Even though every person can be picked apart into a one-of-a-kind explosion of memories and tastes, our basic nature, the soul in each of us, whatever that may be, is no different. I am a ghost in the machine, and so are you.
What happens when we apply this to those we can’t easily relate to? It is all too easy to get fired up about the people we have strong opinions against. The number of online articles and posts bashing both sides of any argument is too great to count, and too disheartening to consider. I think that considering what we share with those who are distant (as well as those who are close) will lead to a better understanding throughout.
The general advice when trying to reach common ground with someone is to ‘put yourself in their shoes.’ Consider the difficulties that they are going through, the challenges that they face that you could never fully understand. If only you could see what they see, even only a small part of it, you may still disagree with them, but perhaps you could sympathise with their views.
Sympathy, however, is just not good enough. It brings attention to the differences between people. You should put yourself in someone else’s shoes because they will feel so different to yours. Everyone’s life is so different that you should keep in mind what they’re going through before punching in a raging comment against their utterly stupid ideas. Sympathy is a good beginning to understanding that we can never fully understand anyone, not even ourselves. But sympathy leaves the pain in the other person’s shoes. We fail to make it our own. We fail to truly feel as they do. For that, for an experience of other people’s state that goes beyond mere understanding, empathy is needed.
Instead of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, put them in your own mirror.
Know, without a doubt, without any extrapolation, imagination, or guessing, that every single person who could see has seen their reflection. They have seen you. You have seen them. No matter how powerful or insignificant, rich or poor, ancient and modern, anyone has been, they have woken to see their own wrinkles stare back. They have seen every spot and pimple, every upturned hair, every dull bloodshot eye, just like you.
In the quiet loneliness of the bathroom mirror every mask falls away because it is only you who can see it. In that moment, you are honest. You look at yourself without any fancy clothes or make up, maybe not even the smile you might put on outside. Maybe you gel your hair up and take a moment to think you actually look quite nice today. Maybe, instead, you wonder if anyone would like you if they saw you without the act you put on. With a few moments of ‘fixing’ yourself up, you’re ready to go out in the world and do what you need to do.
But it’s that moment, that quiet loneliness with just you and you in the mirror staring back, when ‘you’ could be anyone in the world. It’s a ritual shared across the world and across time because it is the moment when the ghost comes out of the machine. The ghost that everyone is.
Remember this when you see someone so different from you that you could never understand, when someone says something so wild and obviously wrong, that if you woke up and looked in the mirror, and they looked back, nothing would change. You and that reflection would have the same little triumphs and the same little pains. And your reflection’s highs and lows would be yours just the same.
That mirror is a door to the sole soul of humanity. Every soul is the same.