“A really intelligent man feels what other men only know.” Baron de Montesquieu

My life experiences have allowed me to walk in someone else’s shoes.

My life experiences have allowed me to walk in someone else’s shoes.

There are many levels and forms of “knowing”.  For example, there is knowing straight forward facts, like the data you’d find in a weather report – “It’s going to be 20 degrees Celsius today, fog in the morning, rain later in the afternoon, etc.”   These small pieces of information add up to a little knowledge that might help you plan your day.  It’s a rather superficial knowing.  I would not call it “deep” in any sense of the word.

A person who can take all this data and assimilate it into weather trends and patterns is showing signs of a more sophisticated kind of knowledge.  This development involves taking information and using schooled intelligence to give a greater understanding.  Cause and effect are eventually connected through further study.  Soon weather forecasts can be made as a result of this new and intelligent analysis.  This kind of knowing is of the “rational” variety. 

But there are other ways of “knowing”.  It was Carl Jung who said our personality is made of four essential parts – the sensual, emotional, intelligent and intuitive sides.  Each part presents a form of knowing.  Through the sensual side of ourselves we experience physical pleasures like food, touch, sound, sex, etc.  The emotional part of ourselves allows us to feel love, sadness, happiness, anger, and satisfaction… and to develop empathy.  Intelligence involves the ability to understand various subjects through experience, empirical study and logic… it is the rational side of our personality we discussed in the second paragraph of this essay.  The last way of knowing is that elusive aspect of intuition.  This is often referred to as “gut feel”, or basic instincts and can include deeply spiritual occurrences.  This is the place where I often experience “epiphanies”.

Jung argued that most people develop only one of the four parts of their personality.  For example, there’s the loving, whole earth grandmother type who is a kind of emotional savant.  She’s able to give love, understanding and kindly advice to everyone but is uneducated, not interested in food and not overly intuitive.  If you think carefully about most of your friends I bet you can put them into one category or another.  Virtually everyone develops one side of the personality in the early stages of adulthood.  Jung postulated that as time passes the other three parts of your personality, the neglected ones, bubble up from your subconscious and ask to be addressed or developed.  One classic example is business people who’ve obsessively used all their brain power to become the CEO of a large corporation and then at the age of 45 wonder why they missed out on so much of family life, spirituality, and various other pleasures.  They then run off with their PA and buy a farm in the country!

I believe a truly wise, balanced person has somehow managed to incorporate all four parts of their personality into everyday life. This fourfold knowledge informs their world-view in a profound way.  There are many paths to this wondrous state.  These involve things like mentorship, traveling, psychoanalysis, positive family life, meaningful life experiences, and lessons, and more.  How a person arrives at this elevated way of knowing is one thing, but how they view the world is something far more important. These people are able to see things in a holistic manner - they don’t break down personal events and experiences, or other people’s actions, into four component parts.  Instead they merge their senses, emotions, rational intelligence and insights into one broad perspective.

This fuller, more enlightened, way of seeing the world reminds me of German word: “Gestalt”.  This word expresses a phenomenon whereby the effect of something is greater than its component parts.  It literally translates as “unified whole” but to me the emphasis is on perceiving something that is beyond its antecedents.  It has a life of its own.  Within the context of our four-part personality, our very “being”, I call this attainment of balance, wisdom. Through this lens we can truly “feel” what other folks only see.  This is the kind of knowing of which Montesquieu speaks.

I have a small anecdote that will shed more light on the intuitive side or Gestalt of knowing. It begins with my almost forty years of experience owning my own retail businesses.  I know about the key activities required to create a successful enterprise, especially the restaurant business. They involve progressive staff management, production and selling techniques, accounting and finance know-how, strategic thinking and a sound vision for your business.

Because of all this knowledge, combined with the many ups and downs of my personal experience, I have a unique perspective.  I can see the inter-relatedness of the many facets of business in retailing situations.  This small corner of expertise, in this segment of the economy, allows me greater understanding of people’s struggles.  When I walk into an empty restaurant at lunch time or visit a souvenir shop in high season in a tourist town, and find myself as their lone customer, my heart bleeds for the owner.  I simultaneously understand the cash flow, staffing, inventory, marketing and family implications.  I look at the owner and see them trying to be positive but what I really feel is their self-doubt - in my bones.  It is an empathetic intelligence, and almost a knee-jerk reaction which I cannot control.  There is an all-pervasive cloud of anxiety that hangs over the place.  I feel profoundly, in my gut, mind, emotions, what others barely notice. This is “knowing” at its deepest level…as the lessons of a First Nations saying implies, my life experiences have allowed me to walk in someone else’s shoes.