Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't Ask / Don't Know:
Jim Styro's Meaning of Life, Part Eleven*

On Monday, we began considering how well we know the people around us.

Idea #1: You may not know (or understand) as much as you think you do.

Yesterday, I presented a second post which covered...

Idea #2: The only things we can truly know about others are the things they reveal

Today, we complete this leg on our journey toward the Meaning of Life by asking the question...

Idea #3: How can I learn more about the people I love?

There are some little proverbs or bits of "wisdom" that I've heard repeated that just don't speak to me. For example:

"Never complain, never explain"

"Everything is negotiable"

"There is no such thing as a stupid question"

and, one of particular interest given our present topic...

"Never ask a question you don't already know the answer to"

Although I believe I understand how each of these statements might be of use in a particular circumstance, I don't find any of them to be true in the broader sense - and particularly within the framework of discussing how we can understand more about the people closest to us.

If you've agreed with me so far (at least for the purpose of discussion) that we shouldn't assume we know too much about others - and that the only things we can claim to know with certainty are the things that have been shared directly with us...

Then, keeping all that in mind, the answer to the question "How can I learn more about the people I love" is really quite simple, I think. Ask them questions.

Of course, anyone who has ever been in the midst of a long-running misunderstanding with a spouse, child, parent or other loved one is now screaming at their computer - "It's not that easy!!!" Hey, I never said it was easy - I said it was simple to know what to do; knowing how to go about it is another matter entirely.

But you know me - I'm full of...opinions. For what it's worth, I'll offer a few suggestions on how to go about it which may be of some use for those who are truly looking for a way to make a deeper connection with someone in their life.

  • Consider what you want to know - and why you want to know it

Although this may not be very important in the early stages of a relationship (when people expect to ask and answer questions as they get to know one another), asking someone you have known for years a lot of unexpected questions will almost certainly make that person, if not suspicious - at least curious. (Think about it: in the same way that we often assume we know more about our loved ones that we probably do, the people we love will often assume that we understand them better than we really do. They assume we have figured them out. Can't you just hear your mother saying: "After all these years, don't you know?") So the person asking the questions should be prepared to explain him/herself.

  • Ask a thoughtful question to get a thoughtful answer

If you are trying to resolve a misunderstanding that has been going on for years, you should be prepared to spend more than a few minutes thinking about the best way to ask for the information you seek. Don't just shotgun a list of questions that require nothing more than "yes" or "no" answers. Leave the questions open-ended so that the person responding must elaborate. Try not to be too leading with your questions; if you supply the answer in the question, the person may simply be inclined to go along with your preconceived ideas. Be direct with your questions - but don't use words and phrases that are accusatory or judgemental. Don't try to tell the other person what (you think) they are/were thinking or feeling - ASK.

Consider asking questions that begin with statements like:

"I've wondered for a long time why you... "
"What were you thinking/feeling when that happened?"
"What influenced your decision to..."

In the process of preparing questions for the other party to answer, consider how you would answer the questions yourself (if both you and the other person were directly involved in the situations or incidents you are asking about).

  • Be prepared to reveal yourself in the process
Don't expect that the other person will be willing to reveal her/himself to you, if you are clearly not willing to do the same. In fact, you may need to set the example by sharing first in order to break the ice. Keep in mind that you are not planning an interrogation; you want your loved one to share their thoughts and feelings with you - so you need to be prepared to follow suit (or maybe even lead trump**).

Well, I hope that this discussion and these ideas are helpful to someone out there. I know it has been good for me to think it through - so that I will have a better chance to honestly share myself with the people I love - and perhaps help those around me to connect with me and the ones they love.

The stated policy of the U.S. military with regards to homosexuals in their ranks used to be: Don't Ask / Don't Tell.

In answer to the question, how can I learn more about the people I love?
Jim Styro says: If you Don't Ask, you Don't Know.

Take care.

* "These go to eleven"
** That one's for all you euchre players out there.


Jess said...

Ahhhh I was totally nodding my head until Number 3 when you said I would have to explain myself too! All this time I thought I was improving the OTHER are now telling me SELF improvement is required as well! GAH! :)~

Jim Styro said...

I had toyed with doing this series of posts on how life would be a lot easier if everyone just felt, thought and acted like me - but the whole utopian angle wasn't working for me. In a literary sense.

The Stiletto Mom said...

I seriously see a talk show in your future...

Let me tell you, you are going to make our upcoming trip to Napa very kids, just us...a time to rediscover...I'm totally rolling these questions out and prepared to answer when it comes back to me!

And you do not have a book in the works why? Dr. Phil should kiss your a*s. :)

Jim Styro said...

S&M: Yeah - Dr. Phil can just kiss my @$$! Unless he can swing me a book deal (in which case, I would like to retract that last bit of humor). There is none in the works at this time - except in my wildest fantasies.

BTW, I hope you and The Man have a great time at Napa. But I will deserve none of the credit (and hopefully no blame will need to be assigned to anyone) for the experience. But I am gratified if my recent posts have given you some ideas that seem worthwhile in exploring the tricky but rewarding landscape of marriage.

As always, I really appreciate your feedback.