IVP - Strangely Dim - Knowing What You Know (Part 2)

July 28, 2010

Knowing What You Know (Part 2)

Second of three posts by our current editorial intern, Deborah Gonzalez, about the differences between knowing about and truly knowing--and the responsiblities that come with each. Read her first post here. 

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Over the course of my internship I've had the pleasure of sitting across the hall from Al Hsu, an InterVarsity Press editor and author. I've gotten to know where he grew up, where he went to school, how his career got started and what his favorite TV shows are. I suppose it's normal to learn these sorts of things about a coworker, but with Al, I sort of took a short cut to the deep end.


I learned early on that one of Al's books, Grieving a Suicide, is based on his experience dealing with the death of his father. Even though I've never had a friend or loved one commit suicide, I was curious to know his story. Little did I know how many intimate details I would learn in just the first few chapters. I read about the day that Al found out his father had died; what the conversation was like when his mom called to tell him; how his dad killed himself; and the thoughts that plagued Al's mind in the years following his dad's death. I haven't known Al for that long, yet as I read I felt as if Al were speaking directly to me, pouring out intimate thoughts and feelings about an experience that changed his life.


The weird thing was that Al had no idea I was reading his book.  I am sure he knew there was a possibility that I would read his book, but for some weird reason, I felt like I was spying. Was it okay to know such personal things about someone I haven't known for that long?


As mentioned in my previous post, many employees at IVP are published writers, so my experience with Al's book wasn't the only one of its kind. The day before I met IVP's publisher Bob Fryling, I did a simple Google search that led me to various articles detailing his personal and professional history (I never go into a meeting without doing a little bit of research first); so by the time I sat down to have a conversation with Bob, I already knew exactly what questions to ask.


In some contexts, however, learning about someone serves no real purpose other than satisfying your curiosity. About halfway through my internship, I learned that an editorial assistant wrote an e-book based on her history of self-injury, as well as various articles about her experiences with depression and eating disorders. I was curious to know her story, and after reading one of her articles, all of a sudden I felt like I knew her--perhaps better than I should. I felt like I had peeked into a window of her life and seen her deepest struggles, even though I had yet to have a long conversation with her.


Reading personal details in books, articles or blogs by or about people we don't know doesn't usually impact our behavior since we will likely never meet or interact with the person. But when we know the person, the dynamics are different. As readers, we are free to do what we please with the information revealed to us by a writer. We can form our own opinions, whether good or bad, about what we read. We can appreciate and identify with what was shared, or we can make negative judgments.


With such knowledge comes great responsibility--especially when we know the person in another context. When interacting with them, do I bring up what I know at the beginning, or do I wait to get to know the person a little better first? What if they bring something up that I previously read about--do I tell them I already know it? Or do I pretend I'm hearing it for the first time? We silently ask ourselves these questions, consciously or unconsciously, since the way we respond could significantly impact the direction of the relationship.


Even though digital publishing and social networking make it possible to learn a lot about a person in just a few clicks, knowing someone doesn't happen overnight.  Reading Al's book may give me a one-dimensional view of one aspect of his life, but it will take time, intentionality and many more interactions in order to truly get to know him.* I choose on a daily basis to dig deeper in my interactions--with Al, and with other people I know about but don't really know. I take every opportunity I can to talk, whether it's by eating lunch with people or by striking up conversations in the restroom (TMI?).


Next time you choose to read someone's writings or to "friend" a stranger on Facebook, remember that speeding up the relational process (for better or for worse) doesn't compare to good old-fashioned human interaction. Reading about someone beforehand might cause you to learn more in a few minutes than you would learn in months of casual interaction--but what will you do with what you know? How will you handle the responsibility?



* I did eventually tell Al that I read his book. Luckily, he didn't think it was creepy; in fact, talking to him about it gave me more insight than I could have ever gained just by reading.



Posted by Dave Zimmerman at July 28, 2010 3:58 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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