This morning my precious cat was yacking a hairball (or something barfy) at 4:00 am. I heard her pumping that thing out in a few different locations near the bedroom.
Shortly thereafter, I heard my wife get up to use the bathroom or something. I said, “Hey Love, Rainey just threw up at least twice — probably a hairball, but I’m not sure.”
Then something interesting happened.
My wife replied, “I’m not gonna do anything about it right now.”
Granted, it was very early, and neither one of our brains was up and running, so this miscommunication was pretty trivial, but it was fascinating to observe our default settings.
See, what had happened was…
I’m a “helper.” I’ve been an educator, mentor, tutor, coach, and volunteer for all of my adult life. Even as a kid, I was a student-aid, a shoulder to lean on, and an understanding friend. Pretty much anything I do in life is geared towards being of service to humanity and trying to improve the lives of others.
My wife is a “doer.” She has been a leader, a project manager, and the go-to gal for planning, organizing, and executing events for all of her adult life. And she, too, started this way as a kid. She gets shit done like a champion. A to-do list assassin. A ninja of productivity of efficiency. I love that about her — it’s like being married to Wonder-Woman.
So, when I heard my beloved walking barefoot in the dark towards a minefield of unknown feline secretions, an impulse of helpfulness compelled me to speak out of a dead sleep to warn her of said squishy surprises.
What I imagine her doer-brain heard was, “Hey wife, there’s something that needs to be cleaned up — you should get right on that.”
What an appalling, asshole thing to say to someone in the wee hours! (Or ever.)
It’s not what you think it is.
Everything that we see and hear is filtered through a whole lifetime of experiences, biases, and expectations. Our brains make up stories and assign meaning to things all day long, based on our past conditioning. This is where so much resentment and misunderstanding arises in the world.
What you say is not always what they hear.
What you hear is not always what they said.
In a time of outrage, trolling, and cancel-culture, having authentic, transparent, vulnerable conversations with each other is a revolutionary act.
Saying, “It may not have been your intention, but when you said _____, what I heard was _____.”
“When you said _____, I made it mean _____.”
“When you did _____, the story I came up with was _____.”
These are all examples of going into an interaction with the understanding that there are at least two sides to every story. Assuming that we have a personal monopoly on all the “Capital-T” Truths in the universe is not only preposterous, but it’s terribly counterproductive.
We can do better.
Believing that people are inherently malicious or willfully ignorant is a cynical, although convenient, way to position ourselves as superior to others. While I understand this may be enticing for a species with a universal fear of not being good enough, it really only serves to divide and ostracize.
The very survival of the human race depends on love, connection, and belonging.
In The Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton describes children at orphanages who are getting all their physical needs met. Yet, he writes, “In the absence of love, every one of their vital statistics is suppressed by 30% or more.”
Seriously, we need to do a better job of loving each other — for the sake of our health and wellbeing.
Let us improve our capacity for skillful connection, intimacy, and compassion for one another and eliminate those patterns and beliefs that only serve to inflate our egos and push each other away.
It takes practice.
At our wedding, my wife and I provided everyone in attendance with a copy of Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. This practical guide to personal freedom explains the four agreements of life: Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take anything personally. Don’t make assumptions. Always do your best.
I cannot claim mastery of a single one, but my life is better when my partner and I strive to uphold these agreements in our relationship. I think we’re doing a pretty good job.
It’s slightly harder at 4:00 am.
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