I was driving home from a board meeting the other day catching up on podcasts. I have a short commute, so I always get way behind on podcasts and only catch up when I have to travel afar. I was listening to one hosted by someone I know, and I suddenly realized that when we’re together I’m different. (This isn’t going where it might sound like it is.)
The other day I wrote about love, and mentioned that I remembered a phrase from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Another memory from that book flitted through my mind, something about the danger of defining yourself in terms of who you’re with at the moment. It might go something like, “you can stop being a different person depending on who you’re with, and life stops being like a fun-house mirror.”1
But I don’t believe that I’m separate from other people. I’m not an independent, isolated “me.” Self is an illusion. I am “we.”
I am we, who are together in the moment. I am we, who have interacted in the past.
Some of the thoughts and feelings that you had, transferred to me. You changed my neurons and memories, and I’m not the same, and never will be. Then we saw each other’s tweets and the process continued. Or I listened to your podcast and became even more of you. Even at a physical and chemical level this is true. When we were in the room together, we breathed the same air, and now some of the molecules of our bodies are still in each other. This isn’t poetry or philosophy, it’s science, as Thich Nhat Hanh says.
Everything is everyone’s who contributes to it. If you heard an idea from me and then you bring it up when it’s useful, it’s yours too.
So yes, when I’m together with so-and-so, I’m a different person. Every interaction we have shapes us and leaves us different. We’re connected, inter-being, interdependent.2
I am we. And that’s as it should be.