What is heard is sometimes very different than what is said. For instance, the other night my girlfriend and I were out walking her dog when out of the silence she said, “I don’t want to be poor.” This was a straightforward statement simply meant to share what was on her heart. Of course, I don’t think many people would disagree with this idea: “What? Are you crazy? How could you not want to be poor? It’s sooooo cool! I want to live on handouts while drowning in judgement. That’s the sweet life.” Her statement is definitely not a revolutionary one, and when she said it I should have taken it at face value and replied, “Hey me too. I’m glad we’re on the same page. I don’t want to be poor either.” That would have been a simple reply to a simple statement. Instead, my reply was silence. I simply stared… at nothing; you know like a crazy person: (person looking at person staring at nothing) “Is anybody home?” The problem was my mind was in a whirlwind trying to figure out what she really said. That’s right, I was upset… because I am a moron. She said I don’t want to be poor and what I heard was, “I need to dump you because you don’t make enough money. I need to find a real man with a real job and making real money you cheap, childish honky.” My girlfriend is apparently racist against white people in my mind. As you can see, there is a slight difference in what she said and what I heard. Thus, I was silent because I was processing the situation; part of me suspected I was misinterpreting what she said. Fortunately, I didn’t just yell at her, “I am not a screw up! How can you judge me like that?” which would have left her very confused. This is, of course, a good example of the importance of responding versus reacting, and proof that looking slow is better than looking like a jerk. Had I simply reacted, I would’ve been unnecessarily angry and mean to her. After a few moments of me staring blankly and my girlfriend staring at me wondering if I was having a stroke, I finally asked: “What do you mean by poor?” This was really just a way for me to delay how I was going to respond, and it was meant to help clarify whether her comment was a thought or an attack. Fortunately, her response led me to seeing the truth behind what she was saying. It wasn’t an attack on me; it was actually a confession of a fear she has.
The other good thing about this experience is it shows that I’m better at not trying to be funny at the wrong time, which I used to do all the time… I have learned a little over the years. When I was blankly staring and trying to figure out how to respond part of me was thinking I should say: “You don’t want to be poor? But if we get married I want to have to live with your mom. That’s what I’ve always dreamed of: Two women telling me to do chores around the house? Dreamland.” The other part of me wanted to say: “Well, I guess we need to break up because I can’t be with someone who’s superficial. As a guy, I could never be superficial like that.”
To help prevent mishearing what’s said here are a few tips:
- Be comfortable with both your strengths and weaknesses: This will help make it not matter if someone says anything possibly malicious about them.
- Know the person’s heart: I know my girlfriend cares about me, so why would I expect she would want to hurt me?
- Clarify: Either ask something like “What do you mean by that?” or go with a more general statement like I did (“What do you mean by poor?”) to help filter out what’s been said.
Above all else, avoid attacking. Attacking only makes things worse.
This week may you respond to whatever is thrown or passed your way, and not attack, and may this lead to less conflict and happier days.
Rev Chad David, www.ChadDavid.ca, Learning to Love Dumb People