Knowing You: A (very) Short Story

Ethel was sitting at her favourite table in her favourite café, she was half sipping her coffee whilst half reading the newspaper she held in front of her. Her gaze was in fact turned towards someone with a tray and looking for somewhere to sit in the crowded venue. From observing the latter’s dress and demeanour she deduced that she was a well to do person probably from a local wealthy family and with a very comfortable life, someone not unlike herself in fact. As the new customer could find no free space she decided to invite her to sit at the small round table she occupied, feeling there was someone she could talk to. The lady accepted with relief and wearily set her tray down. Ethel continued to surreptitiously observe the stranger who did not seem at all inclined to make eye contact or engage in conversation. Ethel was somewhat put out as she’d looked forward to discussing the latest news or local gossip with the new arrival. Having plucked up the courage to start the conversation Ethel said, “busy in here isn’t it, they could do with more staff and tables and chairs, don’t you think?” The stranger’s lips lifted for an instant from the coffee cup as if about to speak but then resumed drinking the black steamy liquid in unhurried and slightly slurpy draughts. “How rude!” thought Ethel, as she repeated the statement once more louder and with a slight hint of irritation. This produced no more a response than the previous attempt, so Ethel went back to her own coffee and newspaper. Ethel was now thoroughly irritated by the lady’s behaviour, “eh, I’m talking to you!” she said almost screaming, as the lady continued to blatantly ignore her Ethel brusquely grabbed her arm which caused the latter to spill the remainder of the content’s cup on the table and then onto the floor. The lady jumped as if stung by a wasp and looked straight into Ethel’s eyes with a mix of fear and puzzlement. Ethel continued to harangue her about her rudeness gesticulating wildly as she did so. The lady took out a handkerchief, mopped the table and sat down again. She then took a small laminated card out of her coat pocket and held it up for Ethel to read. “I am deaf, please speak slowly and clearly, I can lip read. Thank You.” Ethel slumped into her chair, embarrassed and angry with herself for jumping to conclusions so thoughtlessly. Taking the lady’s hand gently in hers, she mouthed slowly and quietly “I am so sorry, please forgive my rudeness”. The lady eyes softened into an acknowledging smile, and when Ethel offered to buy her another coffee, she said, “Thank you, that would be very nice.” From that day Ethel and Daisy, for that was her name, met every week at the same café, and over the many meetings that followed, Ethel learned that Daisy was in fact different from her in almost every way, and that she was glad it was so.

Interpersonal Knowledge, the knowledge we gain about others, is said to be formed in the first few seconds of our meeting them for the first time. This should worry the TOK mindful among us for our sense perception, intuition and imagination will create all manner of assumptions which pigeon-hole people from the start. This makes it hard to ‘see’ people as they really are. It may take many encounters and the cumulative evidence from the full range of our ways of knowing to crystallize whether that first impression was indeed correct. One of the most important challenges of TOK is to make people more open minded about all forms of knowledge and less hasty to make final judgements; this seems particularly important some would say with interpersonal knowledge. A neat way to summarize this idea is found in a line from the classic 1940 film The Philadelphia Story, “the time to make up your mind about people is – never.” Quite!

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