Several years ago, I met someone who’s now a good friend. When we met, we talked about business for a bit. She was very well-informed, and I asked her if she had an MBA.
“What, are you nuts?” she replied. (Actually, more like “Waddya, nuts?”).
I was initially hurt. After all, I had meant it as a compliment. And it wasn’t a dumb question, I thought; no need to be insulting about it.
It happened a few more times. “Who’s the male lead in that movie?” “Waddya, nuts?” “Would you like some more chocolate cake?” “Waddya, nuts?”
She seemed like a perfectly nice person—gregarious, intelligent, giving to others. She had a lot of friends. Had overcome some challenges in life to become successful. Volunteered. Voted. Gave to charity.
“Would you like a free ticket to the hottest Broadway play?” “Waddya, nuts?”
How could the rest of the world not notice this glaring defect in an otherwise delightful human being? It was like having an annoying laugh, or wearing a big scarlet letter. Still, you couldn’t help but like her; everyone did.
One day it dawned on me. This was another of those cases. Those darn, dratted, doggone cases where I had things precisely, exactly, backwards.
She wasn’t annoying—I was annoyed. She wasn’t being hurtful—I was feeling hurt.
She wasn’t even out of line. She was leading with her inner New Yorker; I was countering with my inner Nebraskan.
I initiated linguistic research. I untangled her twisted syntax. Turned out she had evolved a very complex language system, whereby one single phrase could signify a number of subtly different exclamations, including:
“Wow, I never would have thought of that!” and
“Oh, how flattering, I don’t see myself that way,” and
“Oh, lucky me, I get to the be the first one to tell you about XYZ!” and—occasionally—
“What planet are you from? It sounds different from mine!”
I noticed none of the connotations were mean-spirited; in fact, they were all said in a friendly tone. And everyone else seemed to take it that way.
Pogo’s dictum, rediscovered yet again: "We have met the enemy, and it is us.”
So it is with trust.
It’s hard to be trustworthy if you yourself can’t trust. And part of trusting is not thinking that everything—good or bad—is about oneself.
Thank goodness for patient and tolerant friends.