I like data. I’m naturally drawn to complex things that don’t really involve people — electronics, maps, architectural diagrams, programming code, chess, mechanical stuff, etc., and I’m really comfortable picking up a complex thing that I’ve never seen before. These traits are not unlike those of many men I know.
Being naturally drawn to people, though — that’s a different story. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not a socially awkward geek — but I’ve been noticing something lately as I’ve been working on remembering people’s faces and names. I’m very present when I’m with someone (and I’m mainly talking about new people here, but it applies also to people who are a fundamental part of my life) — but when I’m not with that person, I just don’t think about them. I don’t think about what I’ll say to them when I see them again. I don’t wonder what their lives are like, whether they’re married or have kids, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. That’s just not what my mind does on its own. So after I meet someone initially, they often quickly fade in my mind so that when I see them again, a week later, it’s like I’m seeing them for the first time. Nothing stuck from the last meeting. I’m like that goldfish, constantly surprised to see the little plastic castle in his tank.
With respect to faces, what I rarely do — and what I’m trying to do now — is to picture the person’s face in my mind after we’ve parted. I’m now trying to let other people’s being into my mind. I’ll picture her face, his face, I’ll remember their name, maybe something about them, I’ll remember something I want to say — *want* to say, not just feel obligated to say — to them when I see them again. This really involves a fundamental turning: turning towards people, and away from the other stuff that I usually occupy myself with. I’m choosing to spend my mental energy on people rather than things. It’s exercise for me; it doesn’t come naturally. It feels forced, and false, like smiling when you don’t want to. But I believe that even this small effort has an impact, both on me and on those around me.
I still like my iPod Touch, but, as Martin Buber might frame it, I’m voting Yes for the I-Thou relationship.