People Placeholders

When we think about someone, we don’t really think about that person, we interact with a representation of her. There is a collection of traits in our mind that we assign to that person, including shapes, sounds, colors, actions, and we assign that shortcut, that mental placeholder, to that specific identity, and we say to ourselves: “this person is like this, or like that”.

The weird thing is that by interacting with that placeholder we tend to believe we’re actually interacting with that person.

Take a moment to think about that. Hold the image of someone dear to you in your mind, someone who’s not with you now. Notice the feelings, the sensations. Notice how you reinforce your commitments to that person. Now look around. Is she there?

The “person” for which you had those feelings was just a placeholder, a representation in your mind.

Alone In A World Of Ghosts

Now, it would be almost impossible to function in this world without these placeholders. We need ways to identify other people, to keep track of them, to understand and predict their behavior. This placeholder thing, in and by itself, is actually an useful shortcut, it lowers the social friction in your lives. Without it, we would be forced to start learning from zero every person that comes into our circle, whether or not we met that person before. So, the shortcut is useful.

Overusing it, well, that’s not. As a matter of fact, it’s not only not useful, it’s downright toxic.

We keep these representations of people in our head, forgetting that the only constant in the universe is change. We keep interacting primarily with these representations, and very seldom we take the time to actualize their persona. As a result, we end up interacting with a world of ghosts.

Most of the time, these ghosts fit the recorded patterns, and their behavior is more or less predictable. Which makes things even more confusing, because it reinforces our belief that our representations are “right”.

But, with every second that passes, these actual persons are changing, superseding their frozen placeholders in our minds. They meet other people, they learn new things, they have new experiences, they became, in a sense, somebody else. Without us keeping constant contact with them, the placeholder we keep for them becomes obsolete. And when we finally meet again, we’re surprised. Oh, how you changed! You’re not the same person anymore!

Of course she isn’t. You’re not the same person for her either. Your placeholder in her head doesn’t fit your current persona too. You were both talking, inside your own heads, with a ghost.

Real interaction happens only in real world. In direct contact with the actual person. The signposts in your head, the collection of traits by which you identify someone, should be just that: guidance, basic identification. They should not be used as the actual person. You can’t be arguing with someone who’s not with you in that very moment, nor can you love someone who’s not in your proximity.

The validity of those emotions, frustration and love, is real, they’re real feelings, and you are experiencing them. But the triggers for them are just in your head, not in the real world. You are interacting with ghosts.

So go out. Meet. Talk. Interact. Keep track of the relevant persons in your life, otherwise your mind will be clogged more and more with frozen archetypes, immutable placeholders, like a garden filled with silent statues, in which you are the only person alive, relentlessly trying to spot a spark of life, in an endless conversation with nobody.

Photo by David Kaloczi on Unsplash

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