Monday, April 25, 2011

The unknowability of another human being

I think that each of us harbours illusions about our ability to empathize with another human being. To do this entirely would mean stepping out of ourselves, out of that envelope which encloses the unique qualities which define us, and stepping into that of another person. The nearest we can get to this is always to some extent an approximation. Even with somebody with whom we think we are very close, such as a family member, we may think we understand what they are feeling only to be taken aback, as I have been on numerous occasions, by something they say or do which appears to be “out of character”. It is only so in our eyes because we have given them a character which in some respects is not true to them, but is defined by our own perceptions.

The important thing here is to accept as true that we cannot know another person as we can know ourselves. Since a part of another person is therefore always unknowable, we need to take this into account in our dealings with them as acupuncturists. In other words, we should always respect the unique inner core in another human being to which we can never have true access. The patients themselves do, however, have this access, and will open the door to themselves once they are convinced that we are to be trusted not to abuse our position, or to tread with clumsy feet on such delicate ground. We must therefore allow the patient to lead the way, and it is up to us to follow where they lead.

Little wonder, then, viewed the extremely delicate and complex nature of our first interactions with our patients, that the chances of our getting it wrong are surprisingly high. It only needs one unwise word uttered at the wrong time for the patient’s Heart Protector to slam shut the gates to the Heart, creating difficulties in our future relationship with them. Far better, then, not to be too hurried in our approach, but allow both the patient and ourselves time to orientate ourselves around each other.

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