soapbox: open to interpretation

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So, you can see that I’ve changed my blog look. I’m liking the contrast. You will read words straight from the keyboard of a dirty, mouthy, hooker, yet the page you’re reading from looks like Barbie Doll’s Diary. Beauty.

Plus, I just like colors.

I’m going to be doing some blogs that I fondly call Soapboxes. This is where I get up on my Soapbox and share something I read, or saw somewhere, or just kind of came up with. It’s my way of getting out my bad habit of offering unsolicited advice. Because this is my blog, and none of you asked for my opinion, but I’m going to give it to you anyway. I’ll be doing a few of these, just so you know. These are just my opinions and thoughts on things, and I’m hoping that you guys might read and comment and we might get some debate going in the comments, which would be superfantabulous. And fun, as well.

So I’m having a conversation the other day, with my lovely hairstylist, about jumping to conclusions. Thinking you know something, and acting on it, and it turns out you’re wrong.

But are you? Because maybe, you’re right. Maybe, your perception is your reality…regardless of the technical truth of the situation.

As human beings, the amount of sensory information we process on a daily basis is astounding. Body language. Words. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Tastes, for God’s sake. For each piece of information that we take in, we have to make a decision. We have to decide what it means. And when we do that, we react not to the actual intent of the thing that we see, smell, taste, whathaveyou, but to what we think it means.

It’s like coming to a fork in the road. If you choose the wrong fork, then every fork after that is, by default, the wrong way. Because of the interpretation you made way back when. Pretty soon you’re just frickin’ lost and have no idea how the hell you got from “Hello, honey” to “Fuck you, asshole! I never want to talk to you again!”

Except that with people, there’s never only just a fork. There’s myriad ways to go. And picking the right one is difficult.

Some people are gifted. They have an almost instinctive sense of what to say, or do, or to correctly interpret the intention of an event, and not color it with their own prejudice, or insecurities, or personal stories about what this particular event means. Personally, the better I know someone, the easier it is to make those decisions. Some people just confound me, though. It seems like nothing they do makes sense, and I’m constantly misinterpreting what they say or do. It’s frustrating, to say the least. And irritating, when I have to keep asking what they meant, or what their intention is when they say something that I interpret as being hurtful. Because pretty much when someone hurts me, I don’t much want to talk to them at all afterwards.

I digress.

So when we make an interpretation about an event, we’re usually actually interpreting someone’s intent.

An example (purely hypothetical, of course). My friend might interrupt me while I’m talking. I might take this to mean that she’s really excited about something she wants to say, or that she really identifies with what I’m saying, or I might take it to mean that she’s not listening to what I say. I might make up all kinds of stories in my head that tell me she doesn’t respect me, she doesn’t care about my feelings, that she doesn’t think what I have to say is important. Her motivation for the interruption might be any of those things, or it might have to do with something else all together.

But because I already made up a story about what her interruption meant, I might snap at her. I might interrupt her, because she interrupted me. I might say something mean, because, well, she hurt my feelings. I might shut down and not want to talk to her anymore. All because of an interpretation I put on something she did.

So am I wrong?

I don’t think so. Because the only reality we, as human beings have, is to put the best interpretation possible on the things that we sense, and act accordingly. If we don’t, we would end up a quivering mass of indecisive jelly. I’m sure of it. I’ve heard the phrase “people’s perception is their reality” so often that it almost loses meaning anymore, but it’s true.

Being aware that people might interpret your actions, words, body language, or lack of the above, in a way that you don’t intend, is the biggest step toward building better relationships with those people. Manipulators have this down to a science. They know how to identify people’s insecurities and they act accordingly, knowing exactly how people will interpret their actions, and doing it anyway. Just think how incredible those people would be if they turned those skills to making people feel better instead of making them feel uncertain.

When you say something, or do something, or act a certain way, or even make a statement by withholding something, you are inviting someone to interpret what you mean. Even when you think you’re being crystal clear, it’s important to remember that to others, you might not be.

This book I read, called “Fierce Conversations” describes something called “cleaning up your emotional wake.” It means being aware of the effect you have on other people. Being accountable for the effect your actions, words, and signals have. This doesn’t mean being responsible for other people’s feelings. It means being aware that people take things differently than you intend. Making as sure as you can that people know what you mean by what you say. It means when you inadvertently hurt someone, you clean it up. You apologize. You show respect for their feelings and their perceptions (even if you think they are faulty) by acknowledging their hurt. Then help them see what you meant, or intended.

Some people tend to put positive spins on everything. These people are lucky in that they rarely get hurt by something someone says, because the tendency is to beleive good intent behind everything, and are constantly coming up with justifications on why something isn’t as bad as it appears. They are unlucky in that they’ll keep beleiving good things about someone long after that person has ceased to have good intentions about them. Others tend to look at everything negatively. If it could be taken wrong, or negatively, it will be. This is like an instinctive defense – if they put the worst possible spin on everything, they’re never vulnerable, never disappointed. Most people are somewhere in the middle. Some things they take well, some things they take badly. It’s just human nature. No one is perfect. No one says the right thing all the time. No one is confident all the time. Everyone has moments of self-doubt. It happens.

My opinion is, it takes extraordinary people to recognize that. It takes someone perceptive to see that they inadvertently hurt someone with something they said, or to have the objectivity to realize that the things someone is saying may be a result of a message that they themselves sent without realizing it.

I beleive that it takes someone with integrity to want to clean up that mess, to want to make it better and heal the wound they may have caused, rather than evading responsibility using the convenient “I’m not responsible for your happiness.” While true, I still beleive that this statement is a cop out when you know you have done something to cause that person to feel bad. There’s no doubt that some people are sensitive and would take bird shit on their window as a personal affront. Obviously with those people it won’t always be easy to communicate with them in a way that they would never take things personally. But, I guess what I feel is, knowing that about that person, I would approach them differently. Or just choose not to deal with them at all. I don’t mean that you should cater to people’s feelings all the time. Just be aware of what you’re doing or saying.

That’s hard. I try. Sometimes I’m successful. Sometimes not. But it’s how I want to be. I don’t beleive that this makes me a pushover. If you know me, I’m definitely not. It does make me someone that I like, however.


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