In the course of my travels, one thing detracts from my enjoyment of meeting people. I suffer from an embarrassing, curiously humbling neurological condition called prosopagnosia, which, translated, means I have problems in face recognition. I used to think it was due to some mental laziness, and I tried desperately to memorize the faces of people I met so that, if I saw them the next day, I would recognize them. I had no trouble with those who had obvious physical characteristics -- unusual bone structure, beaky nose, extreme beauty or the opposite. But with other faces I failed, miserably. Sometimes I knew that people were upset when I did not immediately recognize them -- certainly I was. And because I was embarrassed, I kept it to myself.
Quite by chance, when talking to a friend recently, I found that he suffered from the same problem. I could not believe it. Then I discovered my own sister, Judy, knew similar embarrassment. Perhaps others did, also. I wrote to the well-known neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. Had he ever heard of such an unusual condition? Not only had he heard of it -- he suffered from it himself! And his situation was far more extreme than mine. He sent me a paper, titled "Developmental memory impairment: faces and patterns," by Christine Temple.
Even now that I know I need not feel guilty, it is still difficult to know how to cope -- I can hardly go 'round telling everyone I meet that I probably won't know them from Adam the next time I see them! Or maybe I should? It is humiliating, because most people simply think I'm making an elaborate excuse for my failure to recognize them and that, obviously, I don't really care about them at all -- so they are hurt. I have to cope as best I can -- usually by pretending to recognize everyone! And while that can have its awkward moments too, it's not nearly as bad as the other way around.
Goodall, Jane & Berman, Phillip L. (1999). Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey. New York: Warner Books, Inc.