Ever make a false assumption and then feel like an idiot? Ever jump to a conclusion based on an idea that wasn’t even real?
I have, and it has hurt me and anyone who noticed. I’m a smart woman, but sometimes I get inflated and impulsive and then here we go, stupid is happening.
Sure, it is likely all humans do it. But let’s be real here, some people do it far more often than others. My conscious goal recently is to stop doing it altogether. Like forever. Thus, I am gratefully learning how.
From the other side of this experience, I have noticed that there are certain bits of personal information I no longer dole out thoughtlessly, since the average bear will jump to several conclusions, and they are almost always either wildly untrue or so oversimplified I just shut down or rudely roll my eyes, depending on my investment in the relationship.
For example, try telling someone you are (or were) an English teacher. They instantly bring their own insecurities into it, cover their mouth lest any grammatical errors escape, and presume my mission is to find fault in their speech. “I guess I better watch how I talk!”
In reality, it would be an extreme exception for me to correct anyone, even an actual student, unless it was in the act of a lesson. Yes, I notice language flaws because my brain is conditioned to do so, but mostly I just note whether I like the person aside from this fact. Some of my favorite people are not literary, nor eloquent, and I might find comfort in their casual language or even in their vulgarities. Speaking properly is impressive, but honestly, it isn’t even that common.
Additionally, there is the little fun fact that I have been divorced four times. When the truth comes out, I am pained to field the reactions, but worst of all are the fools that think they now know me, and that they, in all of their epic wisdom, would know better. Wise people seem to realize there is a six novel series of information they could not know, what came before the marriages, what happened in each separate one, and what has happened since. Most fools ask me why, as if the sum total of my life experience with love can be reduced to a singular sentence, to satisfy their sense of fantastic expedition. Or they conclude that I am clearly not meant to be married. Or they decide I have used up my love tokens and am better off never loving again, since I am the same woman now as I have always been.
And therein lies the ticket. Wanting to know more. So I have learned by my own painful feelings of being misunderstood that I too can easily misunderstand others. I am not above it. And I humbly confess it takes some real spiritual work to change it.
Recently, my dear friend and I have been sharing some deep memories of our childhood perceptions birthed from a multitude of sources. I was stunned by the private thoughts she has carried all these years. I suddenly saw her in a new light, and I felt a newer, deeper compassion for her. All those years, seeing her one way, and basing it on partial information.
It was humbling to learn more and I was honored she took the time to say it.
Yet, part of my spiritual journey is to make more space for people to say these things. To be calmer and quieter and really allow the safety to grow.
Secondly, I am learning how to share bravely in a way that does not reek of self-righteousness or blame or shame, but to openly model the act of risk within the dignified and sacred privacy of a safe circle. This, too, increases mutual expression.
Finally, the willingness to ask a question not for rhetorical fodder, but for authentically hoping to learn more of a person’s experience, for their own understanding of themselves, to honestly just listen and gain a truer perspective of their story and their emotional results.
Possibly, I would say aloud, “I am not asking to judge it. I am asking to know more, to understand.”
I word the questions carefully. I don’t ask, “Why did you do that?” Instead I ask. “Can you tell me about that choice?”
I don’t ask, “Do you think or feel this way, since I would?” Instead I ask, “How do you feel about that?”
I don’t ask, “Did you notice how that person behaved?” Instead I ask, “How did you experience that person’s behavior?”
That is how I have learned that people tend to know themselves better than I know them, and it is not about seeing through them. It is about coming to know them the way they hope to be seen, the essence of their right to be understood, as well as the innocence behind so many actions and values. It seems like the world has a shortage of that lately.
According to Saint Francis, it is better “to understand than to be understood.” But I would suggest: By seeking to understand others, we come to better understand ourselves.
Sharing openly without dominating. Asking mindful questions. Listening with objectivity. Knowing that false humility is only pretending to be small, but truly humble people see the potential of another person’s voice, another person’s view.
Indeed, I have often been the brave fool, leaping into chasms of unknown space. Today, I fling myself into the abyss of hidden knowledge, searching for the stories of others, and I aim to climb out with armloads of pure agape love.