How well do we know each other?

Click for AUDIO version.

Many years ago, when I was a youngster living in Delaware, my family was very close to another family. Our fathers worked at the same company, and the mothers acted like sisters. Both families got along famously and, as kids, we grew up together as brothers. Inevitably, the careers of our fathers took off and caused them to move the families around the United States and far from each other. So much so, we dropped off each other’s radar for quite some time. Recently, we were notified the other father had passed away and, as such, I tried to make contact with one of the sons, who I had not set eyes on for nearly fifty years. Interestingly, when I finally caught up with him by telephone, we connected as if we were kids again. I could easily recognize his voice and personality and we gabbed for quite some time about the two families.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. I have old friends from Junior High school in Chicago, High School buddies in Cincinnati, and College fraternity brothers I still am in contact with, and in all instances, we basically pick up where we left off as if time was irrelevant. I have always marveled at this phenomenon and credit it to an awareness of the other person’s “essence,” meaning an acute understanding of what makes the other person tick, a kind of DNA for personality traits.

I believe when we are young we are more in tune with the fundamental personality of others, such as their morality, judgment, habits, intelligence, interests, etc. Let me give you an example, years ago when I went back to Cincinnati for my 20th High School reunion, everyone had obviously grown up and moved on, but I still had an intuitive understanding of each person; with rare exception, those who were jerks back in High School were still jerks twenty years later, and those who were decent people turned out just fine. Since the reunion, I have gone on some fishing trips with some old football buddies and we kid and tease each other like we were still teenagers, but we also share heart-to-heart discussions and support each other. This wouldn’t be possible if we didn’t understand the essence of each other, and, as I see it, it is the single element keeping us as friends for so many years.

As we get older though, we tend to mask our personalities and become more discreet in terms of who we allow into our inner circle. I think it’s because we fear someone might violate our trust which could hurt us either personally or professionally. Consequently, we become self-conscious about how we act and what we say to others. We also spend considerable time sizing people up in terms of who we can trust and confide in.

Our understanding of “essence” is also based on group dynamics. For example, in school we had to rub elbows with a lot of different people in different settings; e.g., different classes, clubs, and sports. The more closely we had to work together towards common goals, the more inclined we were to rely on each other and, as a result, came to understand our strengths and weaknesses. Those serving in the military also experience this phenomenon and develop strong bonds as well. However, it is when we are in our youth that we are more approachable and open, and less so as we grow older, particularly in companies where we are forced to become political and competitive.

I have an old friend in Atlanta I have known for 45 years now. We shared our first cigar together behind his house in Chicago, had a lot of laughs together and enjoyed many family experiences. Although I haven’t seen him in quite some time, every now and then, one of us will pick up the phone and call the other and ask, “How’s it hangin’?”, a very old and juvenile expression, but something that has become somewhat of a term of endearment between the two of us. When we talk, it’s as if we were chatting next to each other over a beer. Although we still enjoy a good laugh, we’ve compared notes on our life’s journey and try to comfort each other accordingly, particularly in the passing of family members.

One thing I’ve learned as a result of all this, it is impossible to fool someone who understands your essence. They simply know you too well.

Keep the Faith!