Monday, May 12, 2008

On Misunderstandings by Thomas C. Veatch

Do you think misunderstandings in relationships are inevitable? How do you handle them?
Here's what happens in a misunderstanding:

I say literally X,

which in my mind carries the message Y,

but in your mind you understand Z.

Then there is some confusion and controversy because Z and Y don't match up.

I think misunderstandings are inevitable.
This is my theory of misunderstandings and what to do about them.

Misunderstandings are inevitable because language is many-layered, and that means that what you literally say and what you intend to communicate are usually, normally, perhaps even always, quite different. This a basic result of linguistic science, so please go read about Linguistic Pragmatics somewhere if you don't believe me; try Yahoo, or search Google for Conversational Implicature.

Any two people cannot have the same history and expectations in any given situation, we are always different, and it's more a miracle that we understand each other as successfully as we do, than it is a tragedy that it doesn't always work out that way.

It can can be very emotionally painful for one side or both sides when a misunderstanding occurs, especially if an important expectation is violated by the unintended message Z.
The Buddha said that Desire is the Root of all Pain, and your expectations can really torture you in the case of a misunderstanding. So prepare to lighten up and be curious and explore, don't get all upset just yet, it's probably a misunderstanding.

Fourth, if it's a misunderstanding then it's not anyone's fault, but both sides have participated, and both sides can learn something, and if either side continues to blame the other for the misunderstanding then that is No Fair. It's not their fault that you don't understand what they meant, they expected that you would or otherwise they would have said it another way. And it's not your fault either, you didn't expect them to communicate that message in that way.

Here's what I think is a fair way to handle it.
First, we talk and talk
until I figure out that you understood Z


until you figure out that I meant Y.
Then we both learn something:
I try to assimilate a lesson from this experience, namely:
that when I say something like X it is likely to lead to you receiving a message like Z not a message like Y, and so..
maybe I could consider another way of packaging my message so it actually gets there.
You try to assimilate a lesson from that:
that when I say something like X I mean something like Y and so...
maybe you could consider another way of understanding my intention.
Apply the Golden Rule. Does it feel the same when you're on the other side? I think so.
But if you'd rather focus on the part where your friend learns what you were thinking and you get to teach your friend a lesson, and you want to skip the part where you learn what they were thinking and trying to say and where you assimilate a lesson, too, yourself, about how to understand them, then, nothing personal, but that seems out of balance. To me it seems selfish, domineering, and disrespectful, and injures the relationship. You have to root out the mistrust by honestly and respectfully engaging with your friend's real intention, by letting that really count, because that is what they really meant. If you insist on staying on your own side, you're just burning down the bridge of connection between you and your friend.

Think about it. Just a thought.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day*

I can honestly say this is the only Mother's Day I've ever enjoyed... I am FREE.

Mothers Day Glitter Graphics

A happy day to all my mother-friends and sisters alike.*