"After all, is there anyone who knows the qualities of anyone except his own spirit, within him?"Since I'm a glass half-full kinda guy*, I don't believe that most of the unhappiness issues arising from marriage and other central relationships are caused by deliberate acts of meanness or sabotage. But neither do I underestimate the extent to which people misunderstand, not only themselves, but those around them - even those closest to them.
--1 Corinthians 2:11
So today, let's begin the process of kicking around a few ideas concerning what we can know about the people around us, the difference between what we think we know and what we really know, and how to obtain additional information.
Idea #1: You may not know (or understand) as much as you think you do.
If familiarity doesn't necessarily breed contempt, I would say that it at least fosters a unique over-confidence combined with interpersonal laziness. To some extent, I think people just assume that they know and understand certain people because they have been around them a long time. But that's a big assumption. The end result is - we take for granted those who have been around us for a long time. We assume we know and understand things about them that either we never knew - or were true a long time ago - but not anymore.
Let me tell ya a little story that may not illustrate this idea perfectly - but hopefully it's at least somewhat amusing. The Middle-Aged Woman and I were going to visit some friends last weekend and were packing up a few things to take with us in our travel cooler. Because I knew Snoplum's back had been particularly bothersome to her that day, I said:
"Hey, honey - why don't you put a couple of your ice packs in the cooler we're taking to Chico and Chickadee's?"
Although the MAW acknowledged the remark, there was no real response to my suggestion (no surprise since: a) none was needed, and b) after being married a long time you just get used to that). I packed up the cooler, added a bunch of ice to keep everything cold (the MAW observed all this) and went about my other preparations for departure.
We left home a few minutes later and had barely made it around the corner from our home when Snoplum said:
"Oh!...can we go back to the house? I forgot to bring an ice pack."
"Uhm....OK. I thought you were going to put them in the cooler." I headed back to the house.
She ran in to get the ice packs. I wasn't going to make a big deal out of it; I figured she'd just forgotten - despite my mentioning the idea just prior to our departure. But when she got back to the car, I thought maybe she had assumed I was going to put them in the cooler. So I said:
"Did you think I was going to put the ice packs in the cooler? If so, I'm sorry."
"No, I knew they weren't in there."
"So you didn't forget to pack them?"
Snoplum then proceeded to admit to me that she had assumed my suggestion regarding the ice packs pertained to the idea of using them as the sole source of coldness within the cooler. And since she felt that was such a ludicrous idea, she dismissed it. She did not realize that my suggestion was simply a reminder that she ought to take ice packs on our trip because she would need them to soothe her back. Until the moment she asked me to go back to the house so she could get them.
Now who can blame Snoplum for this? I blame myself - for the constant bombardment of stupid ideas which I have (apparently) forced upon her in the past. If she hadn't been required to wade through so much of my previous bullsh*t, perhaps the ice pack idea might have gained more traction before being tossed on the ash heap of Jim Styro's Cacamaimey Suggestions.
Anyway - hopefully you get the idea. Even people who have known each other a long time can misunderstand simple things. They may even be more prone to misunderstanding - either because they're not listening carefully - or they make assumptions about what has been said that aren't correct.
One last thought concerning Idea #1 - The more confident you are that you know and understand another person, the more care you should take in validating your understanding. One thing that many thoughtful people over time have come to acknowledge is that - the more you learn and understand about a thing (or a person), the greater appreciation you have for how much more there is to know.
Tomorrow we'll move on to Idea #2:
The only things we can truly know about others are the things they reveal
* Maybe even three-quarters full