Human skin… the largest organ of our body, is both internal and external. It’s an interactive network providing us with a conduit for the physical, sensory and communicative transmission of data between our essential inside selves and our surrounding environment.
Yup… I like this metaphor better.
Since a better network has little to do with strength or thickness (other than that of it’s connections) a better way to reference and use language to describe how we are responding to our psycho/social environment would be similar to how we talk about what makes a better network.
So rather than our skin being simply thick or thin, we might talk of having smart skin. Or perhaps a comprehensive skin… or dense, integrated, elaborate, universal…
Hmm… many possibilities here. But how does this work into my general topic of vulnerability?
Ok, story time…
Last night I was at a convenient store getting a quick snack during some down time before my last pickup of the evening.
As I approached the register, there was a young man standing there before me. He was perhaps in his early thirty’s and I recognized him as one I’d often seen hanging out there late at night. I’ve never seen him in altercations with either store employees or the other people who tend to stand near the entrance asking passersby for change, but his demeanor is almost always erratic and challenging. Like so many on the streets of Honolulu, I see signs resembling schizophrenia or some similar affliction.
I couldn’t tell if he was actually buying anything but the clerk had that look of strained patience as she waited for the young man to just do what he was there to do and then leave so she could serve me and the other customers lining up behind me. Suddenly, the man leaped back dramatically clutching what looked to me like a Buddhist singing bowl. He held the bowl up with both hands and appeared to be speaking to it.
I couldn’t catch what he said. But then he turned toward the clerk again and began cursing and soon stomped out the door in disgust.
Stepping up to the register to purchase my single small bag of white cheddar flavored popcorn, I noticed a wallet there on the counter and picked it up.
“Is this his?” I asked the still slightly dumbfounded clerk. She nodded in the affirmative so I quickly stepped out the door and called to the young man.
“Excuse me, is this yours?”
The young man literally whirled round to face me. An obvious look of expected conflict about him. I made eye contact, his face contorted slightly with confusion as he looked down to my hand and saw the wallet I held out to him. He looked back at me, his mouth quivered but he said nothing and snatched the wallet.
“You’re welcome” I said quickly and turned to leave. As I walked away the young man had apparently found his voice. He cleared his throat and I half turned toward him, still moving away…
“I would have done the same for you.” He called somewhat softly but with an uncertainty that seemed surprising, even to himself. It was almost plaintive. Like he was desperately searching for the origin of this voice he knew came from within, but which he still could not place.
“I know.” I replied gently. “I know you would.”
I returned to the store to complete my transaction. The clerk and a few others in line looked at me. Almost in awe.
“Bless you sir.” Said the clerk with a smile. I returned the smile and opened the door. Back to my vehicle and my duties.
Such a small thing in retrospect. But it seems to me this brief encounter exemplifies my metaphor of smart skin pretty well. And it does seem so much better that one referencing only strength or weakness. My actions were automatic. Not at all contrived. It was my smart skin that communicated to me how to interact with this young man.
Before my example, the clerk and others were in the safe and familiar mode of keeping their thick skins intact. Their tough hide… the hard barrier that protected them from any presumed threat an encounter like this could pose. It is not unreasonable to be sure, but perhaps some small inroads were made there at that late night urban convenient store.
Perhaps I helped just a bit… to set up a small node in their skin. Like a first modem or hub into which other skins may be able to connect.