I’m very curious about the process through which people really get to know each other. And, just as fascinated by the processes through which people fool themselves into believing they are getting to really know one other. There is overlap between the former and the latter kinds of processes. Some people are very good at both, but, a person who is good at getting to know another person is likely to well understand what the differences are between really knowing and surface knowing.

It’s tempting to insert here that it is a two-way street too, but, my experience is that there can be a significant differential between two approaches and how effective each, in actuality, is.

When engaged with other persons my common mode is research and participant/deep observer, so, at a minimum, I’m often sitting there being greatly amused by processes of interpersonal knowledge building. For example, it is often for me a case of observing how much interference there is in people’s attempts to be present, listen, respond, and, overall, apprehend what is going on. This goes for me too: reflecting on my own interference.

Interpersonal interactions suppose the meeting of–in the case of two people–neural complexity and processing power on a scale that is staggering. Think about it. Two brains in conjoined mutual cognition suppose the immensities and complexities of the separate mental architecture and literally this means in a deep conversational knowledge building process many billions upon billions of interwoven connections in the neural wetware and extensive nervous system meet for the purpose of getting to know each other.

We don’t, of course, implicate this perspective in even a second order sense in this respect: we don’t say to ourselves, “I am now going to observe the penetration of my billionfold connection mental network with this other billionfold network.”

At a small dinner party last night I was asked simply enough what I thought about religion. Then in providing a glib answer, ‘I don’t mess with it, and it doesn’t mess with me,’ I was asked, given the premise introduced in the person’s response, about what would be my own sense of my own spirituality.

My goodness. Another attendee changed the subject. I didn’t answer but I sure did think about how I might answer such a question were I to take advantage of the opportunity. I also thought to myself, counting on one hand, of persons who have been exposed to deeper parts of the answer.

How do you enter into a deep dialogue about something so personal and unfolded over the course of a lifetime? I thought about how this could be accomplished were I to introduce my own terms. Let’s see: we’d have to clarify the initializing intention so as to learn if both really wanted to enter into a dialogue and really begin to learn the answers. Obviously this goes both ways. Then there could be the introduction of a beginning meta-dialogue about how to define certain fundamental and instrumental terms. What is religion?

Next could be a generous and challenging and hopefully loving struggle to depose the certain prejudices which are not cleared away just because the terms of the dialogue can be mutualized.

It’s all very difficult. My interlocutor had no way of knowing that, in fact, the subject area of religion has been of great interest to me since I was 19, and that my own feeling for my own spirituality predates the colder interest in religion by six years. Not only this, but this interest in religion plugs naturally into an interest in history, the history of ideas, anthropology, sociology, and psychology. What compels one to instantiate a religious commitment? How is this different than the religious problem posed by the nature and telos of the individual personality, (per C.G. Jung, among others,) and the ‘psychologization’ of the hard-wired urge to ask, quest for, experience and answers to the biggest kinds of questions?

Day in and day out I’m made aware of the levels of purported interpersonal knowing, (construal in technical terms,) and how it is at the superficial, everyday, familiar levels where the practical action plays out. This happens short of people making a determined effort to loosen the hold of their assumptions and the implicit actions of those assumptions as they bias the self system-of-knowing. This is garden-variety knowing. We don’t need a lot of information for us to remark ‘we know this other person’. (In fact hardly any information is needed to support the report suggestive of a little bit of knowledge being equivalent to a lot of knowledge.)

People, if aware of their (epistemic) biases and habitual heuristics and ingrained methods of interpretation and analysis and synthesis, are better positioned to make a collaborative inquiry…of one other. Commonsense, yes, and apparently very seldom the case. You can test this suggestion.

(An abiding and deep interpersonal process emerges out of intentional procedures. In novel terms, this involves: drilling down, getting into the grain, orders of awareness ordinated via discernments of various domain, and untangling the entanglement. This all takes surely capacious chops. This also takes an ability to fend off certainty, concretization, and reductive moves. It helps to have a comfort level with the mysterious and the tentative, etc..)

Certainly in the terms of transformative learning, especially when it adheres to the mode of conversational learning, the frameworks have to do both with meta-dialogue, and, practical processes of intentional knowing. The point of emphasis is intention, knowing what you’re about to get into.

Deep interpersonal knowing is rare. Spirituality is–partly–for me about how one goes about knowing. My droll, facile answer about my own spirituality is that it represents “the current state of the effectiveness of my prejudices”. This is to admit of and in the terms of olden spiritual lingo, that those prejudices constitute the veils between me and whatever is the spiritual (as opposed to spiritualized,) reality.

Reflect on the people who know you extremely well and reflect upon what is their knowledge and, especially, upon what those people had to do to meet or surpass wherever you happened to set the bar of their knowing. My experience is that most people do not do the groundwork of getting to know one another very often. In other words, the sublime feeling of being known deeply results from sublime enactments of learning and this may require preparation.

Sure, some questions shouldn’t be asked at dinner parties! Still, as always, be careful what you ask for and, (I remind myself,) try not to ask for knowledge you’re not ready to prepare the ground for. This can be hard to anticipate!


Since we’ve seen each other, a game goes on.
Secretly I move, and you respond.
You’re winning, you think it’s funny.
But look up from the board now, look how
I’ve brought in furniture to this invisible place,
so we can live here.


I’ ve heard it said there’s a window that opens
from one mind to another,
but if there’s no wall, there’s no need
for fitting the window, or he latch.

Barks/Moyne version; Rumi


Filed under adult learning, social psychology, organizational development


  1. Christine

    Please, where did you get that poem?

  2. Open Secret; Threshold; versions of Rumi by Bark and Moyne

  3. Valerie

    I have not understood it all…I am probably too tired mentally, but you touched onto two topics I like and perhaps I believe that there is nothing much to say in fact about these, but how could it be, not having anything much to say about something or some concepts such as intentionality and spirituality

    I don’t know, it is my feeling that everytime I am reading something about those two topics that we are turning around and around like we are chasing our own tail

    I am spiritual, I know, because I believe in Mary, and I am in admiration in front of flowers. I don’t know Mary at all, and she is not a Goddess but anything I ask her, it works :D

    and I love flowers, some flowers, for their beauty with no intention behind and without knowing one thing about them

    I also believe that there is always an intention behind everything we do and say, so …

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