Jan Risher

Jan Risher

Some people, my husband included, believe that if they were cloned and passed their clone walking down the street, they would not recognize themselves.

I can’t imagine that this bit of lore is true. However, I’ve told my husband that in his case, perhaps he’s correct. After years of experience, I know that he is rather selective about what he notices.

While there’s no way to test the clone-recognition theory, a story out of Iceland gained traction last week about an incident that came close. The story goes that during a bus tour of Eldgjá canyon in southern Iceland, a woman was reported missing.

The bus driver described the woman as being about 5’2”, Asian and wearing dark clothing. According to news reports, the tour company contacted the authorities, and a Coast Guard helicopter was assigned to help search for the woman. For some reason, the helicopter was delayed. So, the tour group of about 50 people formed its own search parties and began, on foot, to look for the missing woman.

At some point before the bus driver alerted authorities, the woman he thought was missing, had in fact simply changed clothes. The bus driver didn’t recognize her in the different clothes — and she did not recognize the description of herself offered by the driver. So, she did what one would do in the circumstances and joined the search party. Unbeknown to her, she was looking for herself. (I’m unsure why they weren’t able to deduct no one was missing by counting the number of people on the bus.)

The search went on for hours. Finally, at 3 a.m., they called off the search when they realized that the missing woman was, in fact, accounted for and searching for herself.

Were it so easy for everyone that the key to finding oneself is to take a bus tour in Iceland. Perhaps the story should come with a disclaimer: Individual results may vary, and testimonials are not claimed to represent typical results. Others looking for themselves may or not find themselves in Iceland (though I’m sure it would be lovely) or anywhere else.

I spent extra time this week with my mother and had time to tell her the story of the woman in Iceland.

Her response: “Wouldn’t it be nice, if just for a minute or two, we could see ourselves as others see us?”

Thinking about that sentiment of self-recognition and awareness, I thought about how I barely even recognize my own voice when listening to a recording of it. First, when I hear my own voice recorded, I can’t help but cringe. I want to say to the world, “You should know that this is not the way I actually sound when I talk,” and of course, I would say that in my real voice — not the one they are sure to hear.

I have a meager grasp of the science behind why I sound one way to myself and one way to other people. Basically, everyone else hears our individual voices because the soundwaves travel through the air. In contrast, we each hear our own voices two ways — through the air and from internal sources.

Our bones and tissues carry the soundwaves our vocal chords make to our inner ears, which makes our own voices sound fuller and deeper to ourselves.

Maybe the reasons that one might not recognize him or herself if spotted walking down the street are similar to why our voices sound different in our own ears. We only view ourselves in parts and pieces, through bones and tissues — or in reflection.

While my mom and I were on the same page with our response to the lost woman searching for and eventually finding herself, my friends and I have had much discussion with a variety of opinions. Some of them have zero interest in seeing themselves as others see them and wonder why it would be interesting to those of us who do. For me, it goes back to the recognition that, through the years, even since I’ve begun working on the internal things — trying to be a better version of myself, I’m still unaware of the little things that I’ve done and do that hurt people. I have no sense of the ripples of events those inadvertent missteps have caused. Perhaps seeing myself from a different perspective would open my eyes and ears. Perhaps the short-term objectivity might offer the glimpse needed to take a better path.

Email Jan Risher at janrisher@gmail.com.