I took a semester off of college to travel through Europe with my friend Eric. We ended up spending two months in Turkey. When you give yourself multiple months in a country and minimal destinations, you experience “going with the flow” in whole new ways.
One day we decided to buy a bus ticket to a city about 5 hours away. And then get off somewhere in the middle.
I don’t remember the name of the town we stopped at but I remember the experience.
The town was not along tourist routes and had no ruins or guidebook claims to fame. We may have been the first Westerners to visit. They were certainly entertained by us and impressed by where we came from.
“California!? Baywatch!?” We were practically celebrities.
We enjoyed tea with some locals and then were taken to the local high school where an English Class was underway.
The class practiced their English as we played Question and Answer for about 20 minutes.
At one point a child asked me what I studied in school.
“Psychology” I answered.
The room was puzzled. They turned to the teacher for help.
I said again, “Psychology?”
The teacher looked a little embarrassed. I went to the chalk board and wrote out, “Psychology.”
“Oooooh! “P’Sycology!” She confirmed, pronouncing the P.
“Yes, P’sycholgy!” I replied. And we all moved on.
Later in the trip I was talking to a man with very good English and Psychology came up again.
He had no concept of the word. When I tired to explain it to him, I was stumped.
Are you familiar with Freud?
Hmm. Well, you know how sometimes when you do something, you have motivations beneath the surface that you may not be aware of?
He looked at me like I was a crazy person. I quickly realized how much my worldview was influenced by the ideas of a subconscious and the concepts of basic psychology.
What a massive idea this is: That your thoughts are not infallible. That “what you think” is not nearly as clear as it may feel.
Looking back at the 20 years since that coffeehouse conversation, I can see how much of my path has been about exploring the “P’sychology” of my everyday thoughts.
How much of “who I am” is a result of socialization? And how much of “Who I am” is something deeper? How many of my reactions are scripts? And what percentage is genuine?
Sometimes when I struggle with my thoughts I remember those months in Turkey. I remember that understanding the way we think is an exceptionally elusive goal. In fact, “knowing that I can not know for certain” may be the best we can do.
And even after 20 years of study, I often feel like that man across from me in the tea house. And I remember that when it comes to getting to know who you are, all of the study, labels, and books are pale substitutes for getting off a bus in the middle of nowhere.