Every artist (or in my case, would-be artist) will at some point be tempted by the idea of creating a self-portrait, and this is mine. At first, you might think that it doesn’t really qualify as a self-portrait because you can’t actually see any of my features, but believe it or not, when I think about what I look like, this is pretty much all I can bring to mind. While in your mind’s eye, you may be able to picture the colour of your eyes, the fullness of your lips and the curve of your nose, I cannot. This is because I have prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, is a brain condition that means that I have a very poor ability to remember, and so recognise faces. I’ve written before about how this can impact how I recognise, or more accurately don’t recognise, other people, including those closest to me, such as my family and friends, but it also impacts how I see myself, and indeed, the mental image I have of myself. No matter how hard I try, the best I can conjure up is a vaguely shadowy figure that has little or no substance. I know that I have blue eyes and the archetypal Scottish red hair and pale skin. I know that I have a beard (mostly because I have to trim it one a week to keep it nice and neat), but I cannot actually picture these features.
To be honest, this lack of an accurate mental image of what I look like doesn’t really cause me nearly as many problems as not being able to recognise other people that I have previously met, beyond the fact that I frequently fail to identify my reflect if I unexpectedly catch it in a mirror. Rather, it’s just a little mental curiosity, and that’s one of the main things I wanted to try to get across in this image.
The second thing that I wanted to get across with this image is that the human brain is an incredibly diverse organ, and it means no two people will see the world in quite the same way. This is something that we all need to be aware of, and we need to bare this in mind when dealing with others. They may do things that confuse or infuriate us, but they may well not be doing this out of spite or malice. Instead, it may simply be that they see the world differently than we do, and so act accordingly. I see this most commonly in the way that adults, and particularly some parents, treat children, but I also see it in the way that adults treat each other. The result is frustration for everyone involved.
Yet, there is a simple solution to these types of situations. This is that we need to talk to each other more about what is going on inside our heads, rather than just assuming that everyone sees the world in the same way that we do (or even worse, insisting that the should see it the same way that we do). When we do this, the true diversity of the human brain will be revealed to us, and we’ll also find it much easier to understand the behaviour of others, and react accordingly.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should blindly accept the behaviour of others, but if we can develop a greater understanding of why others are behaving the way they do, then we have a better chance of resolving potential conflicts between individuals in a way that will keep everyone happy. And in the current political climate, this is something that’s becoming critically important if we are to avoid tearing ourselves and our societies apart.