Is self-knowledge something accomplished in solitude, mulling over our past and our life with others – something that occurs on solitary walks or looking out over the sea? Here is a friend and fine philosopher writing about a couple’s coming to know each other:
Sarah has been veiled from Chuck for most of the time he has known her. While the veils protected her, kept her from being known, they also made it nearly impossible for her to make herself known.”
And my friend continues:
Our faces harden into the contours of the masks we wear. Chuck has removed those veils with painstaking care. He now removes the last. He knows this woman. She is gladly known. She knows this man. He is gladly known.
Here, knowing oneself seems to happen not in a solitary moment but with becoming friends and lovers. Chuck knows this woman as she lets herself be unveiled. The unveiling also lets her know herself. And in that unveiling, Chuck becomes more than a mask to himself as well. “She knows this man. He is gladly known.” We are to imagine self-revelation and self-knowledge as occurring among pairs. I come to know you in a moment that is simultaneously my coming to know myself.
The occasion of their wedding prompts Kelly Jolley’s remarks about Sarah and Chuck knowing each other and themselves. However, we don’t have to imagine mutual unveiling as a marriage or bedroom scene. I kid you about something you otherwise would keep hidden from me – and you smile, laugh, with appreciation and a slight blush of recognition.
In unveiling you, you unveil me by your blush. I warm to the moment of being known. You infiltrate a region of myself I routinely mask, a region of myself that I don’t fully know, the region of my extending myself intimately toward others.
You blush, and quip in response. I realize you see me as unveiling you, and I’m happy for it. Your unveiling me lets me, for the moment, know myself. The veils I hide behind in routinized social exchange hide me from myself as well as from you. If your gentle quip lowers my guard, I know myself and know you as a friend.
Self-knowledge, from this angle, is not self-observation or self-analysis that occurs in solitude at the edge of the moonlit sea. It’s mutual revelation, and it doesn’t happen once for all. It’s episodic. Friendly kidding around can be a dance that is mask-removing. That’s why we like it.
We let someone gently challenge or prod or cajole us into acknowledging a part of ourselves we would otherwise have kept hidden. And since we only let a friend unveil us in this way, the friend comes to know herself as a friend in her unveiling of me. You can be known (by me) as I have been known (by you).
—Ed Mooney, Zeteo Contributor
—Citation Kelly Jolley, http://kellydeanjolley.com/2015/05/09/wedding-vows-chuck/