It’s true that we do spend much time thinking about what others may be thinking about us. We do this in spite of the fact that during our lives we occupy little room and command little loyalty or allegiance in the minds of others.
You don’t believe this? Try hanging around after your death and see the place you then occupy in the lives of those remaining, even those friends and family members that were closest to you.
The belief that others are thinking about us may only come from the fact that the others also are thinking about what we’re thinking about them. So they too are really thinking about themselves.
Take all that away by our deaths and the entire process comes to an end. Death makes our aloneness transparent. During our lives we cover up what is our essential aloneness, for while we might be with one another, say around the table at dinner, what we are for the others at the table is probably not at all what we think we are, and we remain separate and alone.
Furthermore, don’t things have to be this way? For what we are, even for ourselves, is still very much a mystery. And if we don’t know ourselves, and we don’t, how could others possibly know us?
Yet we are social, or as Edward Wilson would have it, eusocial animals. While not ants, wasps, or termites we also live in communities to which at best we contribute by doing our respective parts, carrying out our varying roles and responsibilities.
Perhaps if we had been more like ants, wasps or termites, this might have been enough. And in fact to one after the other, to tribal leaders, Gods and religions, kings and tyrants, and most recently science and the constantly growing and evolving understanding of ourselves and the world, we have turned, looking and still looking to save ourselves.
But these solutions were never enough and not being satisfied we forever rebelled from whatever the social system might have been. For we felt there was always something more, something that might do away with what was our essential aloneness. For it was to be a part of something bigger, not to be alone, more even that bread, that we wanted.
But nothing did or does do away with the aloneness we still feel. What we need is to accept what we are, our being with others, but being unknowable and forever separate one from the other.
What perhaps we need most to do is to transform our very aloneness into something positive, something we share with others, something that doesn’t so much separate us but makes us all alike. For in fact it does.
(Note to the reader. I got thinking about all this after reading Tim Kreider’s, I Know What You Think of Me in the Times.)