Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Face Behind Words

Do you judge a book by its cover?

I know, I know. The politically right thing to say (especially if the “book” in question is actually a person), is “No, of course not. I remember an incident from Mahatma Gandhi’s life when......”
Yes, true. There are intellectuals and humanitarians who have waxed eloquently and articulately on how constraining, judgmental, irrational, and rash our views are, if they are formed primarily on the external impressions of a person - how one looks, dresses, talks, and carries themselves.

But some people are truly the same - in and out. They are so incredibly transparent and frank in everything about them, that you sometimes wished they surprised you now and then. However, I hardly meet such confident and genuine personalities. Due to my belief that human beings are inherently “good” or “nice”, and that they are exceedingly complicated, I never ever judge anybody based on my first impression. I think Shrek nailed it when he calls himself an onion - he succinctly conveys my meandering thoughts which obviously lack the vivid imagery and punch that an onion brings to mind. Everyone has multiple layers of themselves. Individually, no layer gives a complete picture of the person. Although there may be a few rotten (or unpalatable) layers to a person, on the whole, I believe that the composite is hardly ever completely corrupted or foul. Every person has at least one shred of “good” or “pure” layer in them, and I try to focus on that part of the person. Many disagree and tsk-tsk at my idealism, but despite several unkind experiences with people, I still maintain this stance.

Anyway, I have as usual gone astray from the point of the post.

In this electronic age dominated by the internet revolution, it has become even more complicated to understand a person (or most of their layers), from what and how they choose to project themselves through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other online media. Scholars have aptly named our Internet persona as our second-life. The Internet is a favorable portal through which we can adopt any number of avatars as our alter-ego would like to manifest.

Such online profiles fire an irresistible curiosity in me. It is in my nature to want to analyze people, deconstruct them, and fit them back into cohesive segments that logically point at their behavior, motivations, thought process etc. Yes, I am a “psycho-nerd” as my husband calls me. Besides, there is this little part of me which is curious about the role of intuition and gut-feeling - haven’t you ever wondered how a person would look based on their voice? Oh, that’s such a favorite “hobby” of mine - it encompasses all possible permutations and combination between faces, names, voices, words, and personalities. I convert basic human curiosity into a profound detective work ;). In the online arena, since I like to read blogs and people’s thoughts, I usually (involuntarily, most of the time) start collecting bits and pieces of clues that trickle out of the posts and begin my jigsaw puzzle, eking out a few “assumptions” here and there to fit some corners.

Sometimes, I come across blogs that move me, awe me, or well, revolt me, that I instantly let down my guard, don’t pay heed to my “layer-theory”, and immediately put a face, and a personality to the words and thoughts. Reading just a few posts gives me the assured feeling of knowing the person so well that I can mentally extend the missing layers and construct a picture that fits my model. The surprise is that, no new post will ever contradict my model. If there are contradictions, my mind rationalizes it, justifies it, and I invent new, unknown layers to this persona. I am mostly blissfully unaware of reality, for I have hardly met or interacted with people whom I get to know only through their blog. I smugly thought a blog - a medium which allows one to express their thoughts (being higher-order stuff and all that), was the “purest” filter in the online world to give us a real peek into the person behind the words.

Nope, not really. I never learn that words are - just words, to most people. Even if there is no pressure to write those words down, even if the written word is supposedly more powerful and "straight-from-the-heart". It is indeed easier to type these days than to talk to people. Just as how the words that float so smoothly out of many a mouth should be passed through multiple sieves before trusting those casually thrown out morphemes, it is necessary to take the impulsively-rattled-out words with a grain of salt. 

One can be the most astute, razor sharp, analytical philosopher who can dissect arguments and articulate brilliant theories in their blog, but that doesn't necessarily translate to how well this philosopher applies their skills to manage their life - one can't be shocked if this philosopher were to act in the most irrational manner possible in their own life. Similarly, a person who seems generous, empathetic, sensitive, and intelligent, need not be compassionate or altruistic all the time, or even at the most crucial of times. Their traits are mainly in principle, in theory, in random shapes that form words. Everyone does indeed have their multiple layers, which no abstract medium can faithfully help us get to know.

For instance, what would you, kind reader who has waded through my post and got to this point, assume of me? Among other unmentionable expletives, a chatterbox, a rambling, incorrigible talker, perhaps? Haha. I am incorrigible yes, but surely not a talker, unless you dangerously let loose an interesting point of view in front of me.

It takes years of direct, face-face, real-life interaction with a person to unearth most, if not all, of their core "layers". The complexity of human beings will never cease to surprise me. Nor will my thrill and suspense of putting together a face from a voice, or a voice from a face. Even if I have failed almost all the time.


SecondSight said...

But if you were to succeed each and every time, you would lose the thrill of trying to piece the puzzle together, wouldn't you? Even if some puzzles get to be too annoying/ frustrating.. :)

Karthik said...

I think all of us wonder about the face behind the words/voice ! And I too feel that when I've read a few posts by someone, any newer posts by them fits well into the model of theirs that I've constructed in my mind !

I would've guessed that you are a talker had I not read elsewhere in your blog that you aren't one :-) Other than that, would say perceptive and unassuming, but those I know to be true:-)

Neeraja said...

SecondSight, true. Challenge keeps the thrill intact, but I sometimes wish I was thrown a bone here and there ;). Or perhaps, as I am told, I should just stop doing something that I am obviously not good at, despite all my well-meaning interest :)

Kathik, the mind is such an elastic contraption ;). It tends to get more irrational that we can ever imagine :).
Haha, thanks for pairing those two wonderful adjectives with me! Read subsequent posts more carefully and you may refute them soon ;)

Karthik said...

Haha, to pinch your own words, "The surprise is that, no new post will ever contradict my model":-)
Btw, if Corrigan does write another book ten years from now, I hope that she'll talk about your book too, and I believe you have the talent and the attitude to write one that good...:-)

Neeraja said...

Karthik, thanks again for your ever kind words! You are a repository of kind and generous thoughts...it will do good if people (including me) emulated your attitude :).

suhasini jeevanige said...

Neeraja, you are awesome!!!!! i really admire your language and your thoughts open up my mind!

Neeraja said...

Thanks Suhasini! I appreciate your visiting the blog and leaving such a flattering comment! :)

suhasini jeevanige said...