Since we moved to a new state and I started work at a new company after 14 years at the old one, I have become very aware of an internal phenomenon that I was only vaguely aware of before, if at all. We humans constantly scan the people we encounter for signs of recognition, to determine whether they are someone we know. I realize how obvious that sounds, but until you have had the slightly startling experience many times in a day…hundreds of times over a couple of months…of at first believing you recognize that person down the hall or aisle only to realize that, no, they are not anybody you know, do you become truly aware of how hard-wired this is into our biology. Most of my “sightings” have left me a little disappointed, as I quickly realize that I can’t greet that friend I haven’t seen in awhile after all. One sighting, however, was particularly jolting as I fleetingly believed I had glimpsed someone I’d had to help terminate from our company (gulp). I can see why this trait became an evolutionary advantage—determining who is friend vs. foe is useful even today. I think I will see if I can turn this involuntary practice into a new habit of cheerfully greeting and making eye contact with everyone I see. As I think about it, that should speed the process of turning the strangers around me into new and recognizable friends.
“A man has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.” —William James