[Originally published Dec. 23, 2010.]
“Most people are other people,” Oscar Wilde wrote. “Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” You get the feeling, somehow, that he thought this was a bad thing. Seems likelier that it’s just an inevitable fact about a species whose members depend for everything on each other. No single one of us has wings, claws, beaks, or any easy way to make a laptop or a catch a tuna. What we have, instead, is our relationships to other people, through which come laptops, tuna, other necessities—and the sense of connection without which we’re miserable. We create a lot of ourselves by imitating others, then, and that’s not only because we lack enough lifetimes to reinvent all human knowledge. It’s also because imitation makes it easier to communicate information and connect emotionally.