The watching neighbour

One of the most repeated sentences in my school was “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”. As a child I always thought the difficult part was to love others, taking for granted that I would always love myself. With time I realised that loving oneself was the toughest half of the sentence and an essential prerequisite to love others. Indeed, the ‘command’ to me became an inescapable statement, rather than a recommendation. You cannot avoid treating others like you treat yourself.

Today, I see that the key to this statement is the “as”. The equal symbol in the middle of the sentence that has taken me decades to see. Loving oneself and loving others is one same thing. It’s not saying that we should love others. It’s saying that I am one with my neighbour, my other.

And who are these others? Reading Hesse’s novels, I always have the feeling that all characters form a unity, that the existence of one cannot be explained without the others. They all play their part in the little theatre, but who are they?

We cannot assimilate reality fully. Our senses are limited, as is our rational capacity to interpret and classify the data we get from the outer world through our senses. Limited as this information may be, our brain still needs to make use of it for us to adapt and navigate our way through life, so it completes the gaps through projections. This, in my opinion, applies to all that we perceive, but it’s most evident in the image we have of other people. Individuals who, for the most part, we don’t really know but whose behaviour our brain needs to predict based on whatever information it has. Much of the mental image we have of the outer world is a projection of our own inner world, a reflection of our unconscious. At least part of the content of the world we see surrounding us, our mental image of it, was placed there by us.

I watch these people pass by, as if they were walking in front of a camera, my camera. I barely know them, and yet I can sense inside that my brain has assigned qualities to each of these individuals, it has classified them as potentially harming or helpful. Much of what I see in them is my own reflection, gliding mirrors so that I can see myself. And I realise that this is my own little theatre, as in Steppenwolf. At some point I wonder if my own ego is also part of this theatre, just a little figurine playing its part on the immense stage.

If at least part of it is a projection, if at least part of those characters or some of their features were assigned to them by my unconscious, I do wonder whether what I see is jut a massive representation for my own eyes only. A mirror with a thousand angles in which to see myself reflected. And in it, my own character playing along, moving amongst the others in the Spinning Top, bound to them, balancing each other out to form a unity. Some leave the stage, some come, the world keeps spinning in front of my eyes. So who, then, is watching?