The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 25, 2023 - 12:32:59

The difference subjectivity makes: a tiny anecdote

Katie van Schaijik, May 03, 2017

Last night we drove to the airport to pick up our son-in-law, who was flying in after a semester in Rome. Jules had offered to go alone, but I knew I wouldn't sleep before they got home safely anyway. Plus, I'm always looking for chances to spend more time conversing with my favorite person, my life's companion.

When Thomas texted to say he'd landed safely, Jules used Siri to reply out loud: "Text Thomas: 'I'm in the cellphone waiting lot.'"

It bugged me a little that he said "I" rather than "Mom and I." It felt to me like a (no doubt completely inadvertent!) relic of the kind of patriarchy feminists rightly protest—the kind wherein women don't fully count as present. "A large crowd was gathered: 2 thousand, not counting women and children." It also occurred to me that it might be jarring for Thomas to discover unexpectedly that I was there too. It meant he wouldn't have that time alone with Jules, plus he'd have to sit in the back squished between two carseats. Better to give him a little advanced notice of the real state of affairs.

But it was so small a point it felt petty to mention it, so I didn't, until Jules noticed that his Siri had been in Dutch mode, so that the message had come out hopelessly garbled. He would have to re-send it. At that point I said, "Maybe you could say 'mom and I' this time." 

He said, smiling, "Did you feel annihilated? I sort of did it on purpose. I was thinking it would be a nice surprise for Thomas. He'd come out thinking it was only me, and then find out you were here too, which is of course much nicer for him."

Sensitivity to slights is part of my subjective makeup. So is a negative self-image.

Love for me is part of Jules' subjective makeup. He lives from the assumption that other people, too, must really enjoy my company.

The difference made for two practically opposite meanings of the same objective event.

It was good for me to learn what he was really thinking, and good to be reminded of how easily we human beings misunderstand and misjudge one another.