Tuesday, August 7, 2018

ESSAY: "Coloring Outside the Lines"

Coloring Outside the Lines
by Judith Cullen
© 2018

It is the same meeting someone face to face as it when you get to know them virtually - something that happens increasingly in our world.  It seems counter intuitive, but it is true.  The process of getting to know someone is really the same, its just that the pitfalls are more acutely highlighted when you get to know someone remotely, rather than in person. 

You are in contact with someone for the first time, and something (or some things) about them appeals to you - strikes a chord. You think, "I'd like to get to know this person better." In certain circumstances, you might even think "they have something that I want. I'll get to know them so I can learn." They were a blank page to you before, an unknown.  Then the moment of introduction happens, the void sheet begins to transform, taking on an outline that intrigues and interests.  It's like a fresh coloring page.  You reach for your box of colors, and you begin.

The colors you choose, and how you apply them are influenced by several things. Circumstance certainly plays a part, the environment that you get to know someone in.  We tend to deny it, but our own desires play a big part in how we fill between the lines.  If we are lucky, or wise, observation will lead us to using colors that represent who someone actually is, rather than who we want or need them to be. That takes time, diligence, and a patience that is sometimes out of step with the pace of today's world.

How many times have we been shocked into realizing that someone we thought we knew was  not what they seemed?  The immediate reaction is to assume duplicity; that we have been tricked, lied to.  Maybe that is sometimes the case, there is plenty of betrayal in the world.  But frequently we have mistaken our wishes for someone else's reality.  We chose the colors, possibly without really paying attention.  Can we really blame someone else for that?  Not really.  We can just feel a bit stupid, and move on.

There is someone I have known virtually for several years, worked on projects with.  This someone is a person of significant accomplishment, as I know them through their avatar.  You have to be careful online, of course. In some virtual circumstances people choose to make a rigid distinction between their avatar selves, and their corporeal self. I do not, but this person does.  Both are legitimate choices.  So knowing this person has been entirely via the image they have crafted of themselves.  I don't really know enough to color in their page accurately, even though I may have tried to.

Over time my perception of, and interactions with, this person have lead to frustrations, even anger.  Yet, there was a cautionary voice in me that kept saying that those reactions were the result of an incomplete awareness. This person was, and is, real and not just a something on a screen - a character in some little drama all my own.

Recently, by accident, I got a glimpse of the person on the other side of the avatar, and it shocked me with its reality.  My reaction was so totally counter to the frustrations that had built up around our avatar relationship.  The real person had a kind face, eyes that were friendly.  They were surrounded by people who were clearly affectionate and, frankly, looked like they were having fun. 

It wasn't just that this very real person looked like someone I immediately wanted to get to know: swap recipes with, discuss favorite books, laugh at silly jokes.  It was that I saw in them someone just like me: full of as many good intentions as oblivious flaws, successes as failures, wisdom and lapses of judgment.  Someone human.

In my mind, I am now reaching for a fresh coloring page.  Breathing deeply in, I slide my color box close and I wait - determined this time to watch and take the time to color this new picture in with the hues that are relevant, not just the ones I think should be there. When the frustrations return, as they inevitably will, I will remind myself that this person who may seem quite different from me, is actually not so different.  We both have dreams of achievement, people that we cherish, and we are both entitled to our own ways of accomplishing joy.


Color Crayon Images -  Public Domain

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