In life, all too often, there is what you wish you had done and what you did, and what you wish you had said, and what you actually said. Hindsight is a painful lens to look through. Yet, other times, your intentions were good, your execution was pretty spot-on and still, someone has taken offense. Actions and words are frequently misunderstood, and misunderstandings often lead to confrontation or worse, you say nothing at all, leading to feelings of judgment or dislike.
Of all the hurts in life, misunderstandings are amongst the most annoying, because they are often innocent enough, but sometimes misunderstandings occur because there is an underlying negative feeling that we might have for one another.
Unintended or not they have the ability to create chaos and separation between people. Add to that, many misunderstandings are unavoidable, but it takes clear communication when issues arise. Avoiding misunderstandings cannot be achieved by trying to make perfect all your words, choices and actions. Futility, thy name is perfection! We are not in control of how others see us, all we can control is how we view the world. And the world is a pretty nuanced place! Let go of your expectations of what people should or shouldn’t be or did or didn’t do, not everyone sees the world the same way.
I saw this interview with John Mayer, where he says, “Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8 color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64 color boxes with the sharpeners on the back. I fancy myself to be a 64 color box, though I’ve got a few missing. It’s okay though, because I’ve got some more vibrant colors like periwinkle at my disposal. …So when I meet someone who’s an 8 color type…I’m like, ‘hey girl, Magenta!’, and she’s like, ‘oh, you mean purple!’, and she goes off on her purple thing, and I’m like, ‘no, I want Magenta!’”― John Mayer
I personally like the 64 box of colors and I have certainly worn down a few colors, but the beauty is that there are so many more to choose from. In life, the more options you give yourself, the more likely you will be to create the masterpiece you desire.
When two people aren’t coloring with the same set of crayons, they can’t see the nuances. I may have been using 4 different crayons: gold, canary, amber and copper, but they only see yellow. My thoughts and actions, so obvious to me, are incomprehensible to someone who only has access to the 8 color set. This is not to point out that those of us with a wider range of expression are superior. To the contrary! Through understanding that some people are incapable of seeing your coppers and ambers, then you stop expecting them to! (Would you ever look down on someone who is red/green color blind? Of course not.) It’s about understanding the capacity that others have to understand you. When you really accept that on a fundamental level, that others will not see your actions as you do, then you can manage your expectations of your interactions with these people. Only when we are disappointed or upset with another person do we allow our hurt to cause separation. The goal is to get to the place where you don’t judge them, any more than you would judge a dolphin for being narrow-minded — only staying in water and not trying out land, or an infant for not being potty trained! I still appreciate them and see their beauty, just understanding that they are viewing my actions from their limited palette.
One of the greatest human misconceptions is that we think everyone else is fundamentally the same as us, that their exchanges and outlooks on the world are basically similar, that they are working with the same set of crayons and see the world in the same vibrant colors that we do. We intrinsically believe that how we perceive good and evil is universal, that what strikes us as tragic or hilarious will largely be the experience shared by everyone else. In other words, your values, beliefs, preferences and behavior are ‘normal’ and other ‘normal’ people are pretty much the same as you. When you believe this way, you live with a sort of built-in approval system. You feel supported and validated, under the influence of what psychologists call a false consensus (meaning you only think everyone agrees with you). This phenomenon makes you feel secure with whatever number of crayons you are working with, providing high ground from which to judge other people’s behaviors.
People are not the same at all. They may want a lot of the same things, but how they think, feel and form opinions about the world can be radically different from your experience, and even if they let you down, because they see the world in muted tones, see their good qualities in spite of their limitations. Let go of the belief that you represent ‘normal’ and by extension right and wrong.
Misunderstandings are going to occur, and often with the same people, over and over again. You can spend a lifetime trying to explain yourself to certain people, but it will be futile. You’re just working with a different set of crayons. The only way to avoid misunderstandings with an 8 box set is to stop using your other 56 colors! Even then, good luck with that! In the end, all you can control is your behavior, your ability to not judge them for their narrowness of view. As for how they perceive you, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite sayings, “Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.” Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Is there someone in your life that you have constant misunderstandings with? Are they working with the same crayons? Make yourself a promise to let go of your frustration and anger, understanding that they are no more capable of understanding your actions than the chair you are sitting on!