A brief commentary on the nature of human relationships.
In my day job I spend most of my time trying to convince humans that the majority of our troubles with other humans stems from the fact that we see the world differently. Due to our genetics, our innate personality traits, our upbringing and our culture we experience the world differently at a visceral level. On top of that, we also are predisposed to assume our way of seeing the world is THE way the world works. The challenge I face on the job is trying to find examples to illustrate this point. Here is one such example I came across the other day that might help.
Last week I was meeting someone at a local hospital (it’s ok, no one is sick). I arrived early for my meeting and promptly sat down in a chair in the lobby to wait. In this particular hospital they have a piano in the lobby that is often being played by an employee. The idea is that sick people waiting in the lobby might be relaxed by some live music. As I waited and listened, I glanced around the lobby looking for my friend who I was to meet.. In the chair next to me was an older gentlemen who looked either homeless or crazy. He was dressed in sweatpants most likely purchased during the Reagan administration and a t-shirt that was fraying at the collar and both sleeves. His hair was wild looking; gray and sprouting out from his head in all directions. His coke bottle glasses had tape in the middle and were bent and crooked.
I glanced over at him and since I am always trying to decipher people’s personality and had a few minutes to kill, I decided to chat him up. I sat for a minute or two listening to the lovely piano music (I think it was Beethoven being played) deciding the best approach to engage him. Finally I said, ” The music is beautiful and so relaxing. What a nice gesture by the hospital.”
He snorted and shot back, “Really? I am a classically trained musician and that music sounds like nails on a chalkboard. He is butchering that piece so badly I am not sure I can sit here for much longer.” It turns out he was trained on the oboe and played in Europe for years in an orchestra. He was not crazy but more like an eccentric genius.
Our quick interaction neatly captures the inherent challenges two humans face when they attempt to communicate with each other. Based on our history (me as a juvenile delinquent and him as a musician) and our DNA (he was a naturally gifted musician and I was not) we were experiencing a situation in completely different ways. I only heard beautiful music and appreciated the intention of the person playing the piano. My eccentric friend heard incompetence and noise that bordered on offensive to him.
This goes deeper than simply seeing it differently. We were experiencing it differently. I will NEVER hear the mistakes being made by the person playing the piano. I will always hear nice music and appreciate the effort. My musical friend will ALWAYS hear a piece being butchered by an incompetent musician. We can argue till our last breath and will never resolve the argument at that level. This is an example of the most deadly of human arguments, a guaranteed relationship killer – the dreaded right vs. right argument. It is an argument where both parties are 100% right based on how they see the world. You can spend years in a right vs. right argument and will never resolve it.
In my piano example, which one of us saw the situation correctly? What if the underlying criteria had not been so easy to observe?
Instead of two strangers debating the musical styling’s of a hack in a lobby it had been a married couple discussing the right way to raise children? Or spend money?
What if we had been a parent and child discussing how to demonstrate respect to each other? Or dress appropriately?
Or two coworkers discussing rude behaviors at work? Or what hard work looks like?
The list is endless and the possibilities infinite.
Watch for the right vs. right argument in your life It is typically an argument you have had many times with a loved one but you have yet to win the argument. But you are SURE you are right and they are wrong. After all, surely any idiot can tell when Beethoven is being butchered by a lazy incompetent pianist. No?