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.
Beautifully said, Charlie. You point to something that’s at the core of extraordinary leadership, really — knowing intimately the lenses through which we see the world and trying on someone else’s pair of glasses from time to time. 🙂
For me, this points in part to what Malcolm Gladwell addresses, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking , making up one’s mind about people they meet for the first time (and, for me, others we already know) instantaneously or in one or two seconds.
Basically, reactivity…we think without thinking, snap judgments, decisions, and criticisms, which are unconscious.
Our unconscious reactions, based on our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education, etc. serve to protect us, to keep us feeling safe, in control or away from harm in some way, shape or form. So we make these quick snap decisions, all the while "thinking" and feeling we know the situation completely.
Reactivity can play havoc with how we view ourselves and our ability to interact with people who are different than ourselves in speech, appearance, or action. Our reactivity and quickness to judge impact how we develop friendships with people at work, relationship building (yesterday’s post?) and who we believe in a work disagreement or confrontation.
The deal, for me, is consciousness…being aware of who I am and how I am in relationship, first with self, and then with another and how I can control my reactivity, my unconscious judgments both of myself and others. Yes, Pogo, it’s all about me.
Gut reactions, intuitive insights have their place, can be supportive. The key is constant awareness of one’s ability to make snap decisions and judgments to be more aware of what’s operating in the field…how I’m feeling…my doubt, my anger, my resistance, my fear, my resentment…all of which lead to immediate, reactive, unconscious negative judgments. With practice, for example, the practice of presence, or being in the moment, one can be discerning, very quickly, of the difference between right action and inappropriate action, or right knowing and erroneous "knowing", and then respond, rather than react, even in the blink of an eye, consciously rather than unconsciously.
As for trust, perhaps it’s about trusting the notion that I’m not always right, that I don’t have to make a snap decision and I can still be, and feel, OK.
Your post title immediately caught my eye. Loved the content too. Very thought provoking.
I guess, sometimes, when we judge peoplpe, or compare we generally go by what is “standard”..does that make any sense 😉