The Misunderstanding That Will Ruin Our Lives

1. That’s Not What I Meant!

“Writing doesn’t begin when you sit down to write. It’s a way of being in the world, and the essence of it is paying attention.” -Julia Alvarez

This section’s title comes from linguist Deborah Tannen who has written half a dozen books trying to explain to readers that each person has such a dramatically different way of seeing the world, that we cannot afford to make assumptions that the person listening to us gets what we mean.

Communication is difficult.

You can’t solve a problem until you admit that there is a problem.

We are bad at communication.

If you think we are good at communication, then I cannot help you with anything else I might teach on this site.

We are bad at communication.

Mismatches in communication are at the core of a tremendous amount of the upheaval and pain we have in our lives right now.

I once saw a cartoon depicting the different rooms in heaven. It had all the different places a person might want to go.

The buffet banquet where you never get too full, I think was one of them. There were probably others along those lines.

The one I always remember:

“The Hall of Arguments Where You’re Always Right”

The drawing was of two characters speaking, and one of them had a speech bubble that said, “You know, I never thought of it that way…”

Reverse that.

It’s a living hell when people refuse to come to our point of view.

Some of the living hell we are trapped in is because people don’t understand us.

It would be heavenly, if people could just see what we mean. It would be wonderful if it didn’t take so much extra effort to make ourselves clear, if the listener would just do the work of considering our history and our point of view, and they’d look upon our words with the eyes of benevolence and start to gain an understanding of why we see things this way.

Heaven is them doing the work.

Heaven is someone else doing the work of listening to us.

It’s not going to happen.

There will be some persons in your life who will take the time to consider your point of view, and look to see things your way.

But most people you meet are only ever going to say, “I’ve never thought of it that way,” as a result of your ability as a communicator.

Heaven would be if they would do all the work for us. Hell is when nobody does any work.

We can at least escape the hell-on-earth that is bad communication, if we work to become better communicators and work to make the communications we’re involved in clearer.

Every person I’ve met, has points of view that can be life changing. But we’re stuck behind our insistence that somebody else do the work of dragging those insights out of us.

As life gets more hellish, I think it’s time to take communication more seriously.

Communication is part of the antidote we need.

2. Cringing At Cringe

I don’t like cringe comedy.

I once had a pal who would admit to you that he liked to make things awkward, because then everyone else was as uncomfortable as he was.

In a way, his ability to change the group’s tone was a leadership ability.

He wasn’t passivel.

I admired that he could change the group he was in.

I didn’t like what he changed the group’s tone to, but he made a decision and we were all different for it.

He wasn’t the only person in my life who could do that. When I was growing up, I met a fair number of people who could change the tone of a group. Make us all more scared, or make us all more reckless, or make us all more awkward.

It’s also possible to use leadership to elevate a group. Break the tension for people. Find something soothing, relieving, or wise to think about together.

But it’s harder.

And that’s why for every person I know who could elevate a group, there are a dozen who only knew how to drag a group down.

It is for this reason that there are more comedies that are about dragging the tone down to an awkward level, than there are comedies which elevate.

Flip through the comedy section of your favorite streaming service, and you will find far more dark comedy and cringe comedy than comedy which aims to make you feel safe and ready for your life.

I love Ted Lasso.

I was hooked on Ted Lasso from the second scene.

The club owner is showing Coach Lasso around the football club and while looking at the trophy cases of decades of past teams, she mentions something about, “all the old ghosts haunting this place.”

“Do you believe in ghosts, Coach Lasso,” she asks him.

And in earnest, with no sense of irony or glib, he says, “Oh yes I do; though to be honest I think they need to believe in themselves.”

They need to believe in themselves.

He’s a coach.

The coach/game/performance genre of story is often about capable but unready characters who have psyched themselves out of being able to perform and measure up.

“They need to believe in themselves.”

He didn’t say it to be funny.

He believes in ghosts, and his worldview is no different for ghosts than it is for the living:

People need to believe in themselves more than they do.

That’s tougher comedy to create.

You can’t fake that.

You have to have led some amount of an earnest life to be able to collect an earnest moment captured on screen.

Most stories, comedy or otherwise, are about dragging an audience down to the level of discomfort of the writers and directors of that story.

Most conversations are about dragging you down to the level of discomfort of the person you’re talking to; unless they have made a conscious choice to try to elevate, the prevailing trend is to drag people down with you.

3. Loneliness In The 21st Century Is A Sign That Something Is Terribly Very Wrong

Some people champion for the idea that there are no generations.

I disagree.

I’m a millennial and I can tell you exactly what that means.

We were the group that got internet and smart phones while we were young adults still at school, just at the moments we were defining ourselves as people.

We lived without internet, and we were the en-masse adopters of the internet when it became available to us.

Gen Z is someone who grew up completely unimpressed with internet and smartphones because they were always there.

Gen X is someone who was a fully defined person before the internet and smartphones became an option.

Millennials existed in a cut-off analog world, and then we were connected to one another and in a very short period of time nothing was ever the same.

I had some bad bullying in 1996.

We’d later come to understand that it wasn’t deliberate bullying, it was just bad unkempt culture of rowdy boys who treat everybody in the group poorly, and I was coming from Montessori where everyone was actually friendly and approachable.

But at the time, it felt like I was being told I wasn’t welcome and that I was worthless. It was the end of the line for me; it was very bad. My home situation was bad, and now my school situation was bad, and I was not allowed to have friends outside of school so I had nothing but LEGOs and books.

Which for an introvert might have been fine; I’ve met people who had similar experiences of having no one around to be friends with but who didn’t really care that they were on their own.

I needed friendship.

And in 1996, I was stuck geographically with the people I could see in person.

In 2015, and 2018, and 2019, and 2020, I attended four different groups online where I met some of the best professional connections I could ever find.

We learned from one another, we shared experiences, we got work done, we laughed, we had a great time in these groups.

No one lived in the same town as me.

We were not bound by geography.

But by all accounts, that’s a little late. We’d all had the technology to connect with people around the world for years and years by that point.

Why did it take so long for a motivated person who needs people, to find people?

4. My Home Invader Taught Me To Make A Sandwich

I was scared for years, of someone assaulting me at home.

When I was in high school, a guy who we now all think wanted to date me but had not been honest about it, came to my house and banged on the door.

Ex-Husband style banging on the door.

Like, “He’s going to go away………right? He’s not going to try and get in……. right??”

It wasn’t an isolated incident where he’d done everything else sane, but this was the one unstable thing he did; it was because I had cut him off for the last unstable thing he did that he was trying to get my attention.

He felt entitled to my life, even though he hadn’t made me feel safe.

And, weirdly, I vaguely think about him every time I stir a drink or make a sandwich.

Like many interactions that end in chaos and tragedy, it had moments where things went right.

During one of the normal and sane days, he taught me how: if the lunch meat is good quality, and the bread is good quality, you can slap it together, maybe with some good cheese, and never need a sauce.

Sauces are for covering up bad ingredients, was his contention. And for the most part, I see his point, and I have made sandwiches with deli-cut lunchmeat and when I can I get a nice sliced sourdough bread that I like. And I get the name-brand cheeses that I know are less rubbery than the store-brand.

He also taught me to stir a drink. It was like a yoohoo chocolate powder in milk or something, but he stirred it with a butter knife.

He explained, you don’t need a spoon for this, you want a stirring stick.

Most of us don’t have a stirring stick, so you can instead use a butter knife. It’s straight up and down, and spins easier in a glass than a spoon with less spillage.

I’m so scared of this guy to this day, that I’m scared to write out these anecdotes for fear he’ll read that I still don’t have a high opinion of him and that he’ll come after me in some way.

We, the people of the 21st century should not be lonely. We have access to countless people now.

But that guy pounding on the door of my house, and a handful of other different interactions that went bad, made me timid when it comes to letting new people into my life.

In the 21st century, we can reach out and connect with endless people. So anyone who wants friends and people to talk to should have no end to the people we can talk to.

But we’re scared of the people we can meet who can’t handle how difficult communication is.

Most people want to drag you down to their level, to validate their level. Leadership where a person uses their influence to elevate others, to make others feel better, that’s rarer.

Sandwich/Drink-Stir/Door-Pounding Guy wasn’t the kind of guy who is likely to try to see from my point of view how threatening he was, how unstable.

He’s not likely to take responsibility for how difficult communication is.

Very few people are with me on this. Communication is challenging and involved, and it takes skills we have to train.

It’s not even that most people agree this is a problem, most people don’t even realize what a problem we’re facing here.

We had some good moments; he taught me about butter knife stirring and sandwiches, but when it came to the things that mattered, he acted in a way that made life hell for me and my family.

This was an extreme case, but it’s the most common thing: that two people are going to fail at connecting.

For any of us who care about communication actually going the way we want, it’s going to be a lot of work.

And the first step is admitting and accepting:

5. Communication Is Difficult

It’s not impossible.

We have the strategies ready to go.

They’re learnable strategies.

We’re learning more each year.

Each year, communication gets less impossible.

But each year, we have a year’s worth of a world of people trying to communicate with one another, failing, getting upset, and then enough of those people retaliating.

We fight. We don’t communicate.

Hell, I’ve yelled at people online and it’s my life’s work to improve communication options.

We have a lot of work to do.

But we cannot solve a problem that we do not believe exists.

We have the ability for any one of us to talk to another.

We increased our technological ability to speak to one another, but we did not also increase or ability to understand one another.

If we fail, if humanity fails, I believe it will be because good and smart people fought instead of learning to communicate.

“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.” -George Bernard Shaw

A world where we exchange ideas sounds heavenly.

The hell that we’re living is a world where our technology allows our insults and attacks to multiply because we never learned how to exchange our ideas.

The above post was an entry for Paul Scrivens’ 30 Day Prompt Challenge.

Prompt: A storm is brewing.
What’s coming?