Don’t Give Away Your Keys

Oh, this was going to be good! I was going to surprise someone. She was going to be happy. She was going to be ecstatic and excited. That, in turn, was going to make me happy.

Only, that’s not how it went down. My big surprise was met with awkward silence. Things were not going as I planned. Not at all. And instead of being happy, I cried myself to sleep. Two nights in a row. But not three. No, not three. And never again.

The mistake I made was assuming I could accurately predict the behavior, priorities, and thought processes of another human being. I had imagined myself in that person’s place, and I assumed that she would react in the exact same way that I would. I was genuinely shocked and hurt when she did not.

It actually has me reevaluating my entire world view. What can I count on? Whom can I rely on? How much of my conclusions are drawn on pure assumption, therefore rendering them invalid?

It is going to take me a long time to digest all of this. It will be uncomfortable, learning to lower my expectations. But I know, on some level, I had been giving away the keys to my happiness to someone else. How absolutely silly of me to build my joy on such unpredictable foundations! Everyone has different priorities and different criteria for their behavior. And guess what? That is each person’s right.

Here are the only things I know for sure: I can rely on myself. I can count on my own behavior. That’s my bedrock.

From now on, the only one who gets to hold the key to my happiness is me. No one can “make” me happy. My happiness lies within me. I can certainly share it, and I delight in doing so, but I can’t leech it off of someone else as if I’m some sort of happiness vampire.

Bottom line: It’s my key. You don’t get to have it. Go get your own.

Key

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For Real

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that made you question reality? Sometimes two people can draw such different conclusions from a situation that it makes you wonder if you come from the same planet. I had one of those recently.

A friend said, “You just called me an (xyz).”

I replied, “What are you talking about? That word never came out of my mouth. What I said was (abc).”

My friend repeated his assertion. I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Especially since we were communicating via text.

So I said, “Dude, scroll up. Where are you seeing (xyz)? Where? Show me.”

Long pause.

Then he said, “I just talked to (mutual friend E) and she agrees with me. I’m not an (xyz).”

Me: “Wait a minute! Where is this coming from? What are you talking about? I never said you were!”

Him: “It really hurts my feelings that you disrespect me so much that you think I’m an (xyz).”

At this point, my feelings were kind of hurt that he would think I was the type of person to say such a thing. So I said, “On my life, I never said that! I don’t know where this is coming from. If I struck some sort of a nerve somehow, I’m sorry. But I’m not responsible for the nerve being there in the first place. You’re pulling facts out of thin air, so I really think we should leave it at that.”

God, how I hate being misunderstood. Even worse, I hate trying to explain something that seems perfectly obvious to me, only to discover that the other person just doesn’t get it. “But… the sky isn’t lime green with purple polka dots! Look at it! Look!”

I would probably be easily sucked into a cult. Because eventually I’d just give up and I’d really want to believe the sky was purple and green, too. Anything to make the world make sense again. After a while, I might actually see a tinge of green. And maybe a spot or two.

Or not. Who knows?

green and purple

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Assumptions

“My coworker is a slob. She says she cleans up after herself, but she doesn’t. I can tell. She has no respect for me, or for the job. She has a bad attitude. She can’t be trusted.”

Wow. I’d hate to work with someone like that! It must be so frustrating. That can’t be doing good things for your morale.

Here’s the problem with that assessment, though. It includes no fewer than 6 assumptions. The speaker is viewing those assumptions as fact. Let’s pull back the veil and look at the actual situation.

Your coworker isn’t more or less sloppy than the average person. You, in fact, are obsessive compulsive and hypervigilant. She does clean up after herself. It’s just that by the time you come along, several other people have been in the work area, and your coworker has no control over that. The state of the office is not a reflection of her respect or lack thereof. She actually loves the job and takes it very seriously. Her attitude is quite good, but she admittedly is on the defensive in your presence because her experience with you is that you are judgmental. She’s extremely trustworthy. (You might want to ask yourself if you find it possible to completely trust anyone.)

That kind of sheds a different light on the subject, doesn’t it? We all see the world through different lenses. We are the sum total of our past experiences. We all have our weaknesses and strengths.

Viewing assumptions as truths is life’s shorthand. It sure makes things go faster… but often in the wrong direction. As a coping mechanism, it does not serve us well. But it takes practice, being self-critical.

When is the last time you asked yourself what proof you had for a particular conclusion? How do you know people are thinking what you think they’re thinking? Have you asked? Mind reading is a heady power, but it’s the worst assumption of all.

Another assumption would be that I’m an expert at identifying my assumptions simply because I’m writing a post on the topic. On the contrary, I struggle with this concept on a daily basis. I’d like to think that I’m getting better at separating fact from fiction, but I suspect this will be a lifelong exercise in self-improvement, and one that’s entirely too important to pass over.

Assume

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Filling in the Blanks

I’ve been thinking a lot about how often I color my world with details that are not based on fact. It’s like my head is filled up with bee pollen, and if you aren’t already thickly coated with the stuff, I’ll be happy to sprinkle some all over you. Nature abhors a vacuum, and so do I.

If someone isn’t an open book like I am, I’ll create an entire narrative about them. I’ll imagine they’re like me. Liberal. Intelligent. Curious about life. And then I buy into that to the extent that if I find out they’re conservative, stupid, and completely apathetic, I’m actually shocked and disappointed.

I also draw conclusions based on my own past experiences, completely overlooking the fact that their experiences, and therefore their actions, are bound to be different than my own. I like to cross all my T’s and dot all my I’s, and I have a tendency to try to do that for others as well. But how can I be sure that T wasn’t supposed to be an L?

I need to work on keeping my fantasy world separate from the facts. I need to stop barging in and trying to complete everyone else’s story. I need to learn to embrace the blanks. Maybe then they’ll fill themselves.

Or maybe not. That’s okay, too.

[Image credit: accelerateddevelopment.ca]
[Image credit: accelerateddevelopment.ca]

The Other Side of the Story

I just had this psychedelic thought, and I’m not even smoking pot. Here it is: Stories are three-dimensional. They have sides. They have perspectives. They have angles. The conclusions you draw from them will be based on which direction you approach them from. You can’t see all sides at once.

I suppose I always thought of stories as words coming at me in a straight line. That’s probably why I’ve gone through life utterly confounded by the fact that not everyone learned the lessons that I was learning. “Did you not hear what I just heard?” Apparently not.

Biblical interpretation and controversy are prime examples of this. Fundamentalists think that the stories in the bible are flat and one-dimensional and therefore straightforward. They simply cannot understand why everyone does not view this book in the exact same way that they do. I find this kind of sad. Why would you want to crush this story, or any story, for that matter, down to an invariable smooth surface when it can be so beautiful and varied and ever-changing in your examination? Even if you are not a Christian (and I am not), this book has lessons, as do all the great stories of mankind.

From now on, I’m going to try to imagine stories coming toward me in varied, colorful, geometric shapes. Like unique little gifts floating on the air. I’m going to try to look at them from many sides to capture as much of their beauty as I can. This opens up a whole new world of possibilities, and will make the world a much more beautiful place for me. I’m excited!

[Image credit: origami.wonderhowto.com]
[Image credit: origami.wonderhowto.com]

“American Blogger Killed”

When I read that headline the other day, my blood ran cold. Because, hey, I’m an American Blogger, so I take stuff like this personally. (Okay, so my notoriety isn’t that overwhelming, but it still strikes a chord.)

According to the Reuters article, the blogger in question, Avijit Roy, was based in Bangladesh, which, let’s face it, does not have a great reputation for freedom of the press. He spoke out against religious extremism. For his trouble, he and his wife were hacked to death by machetes. What a grisly way to go just for speaking your mind.

This kind of reaction to speech in general is incredibly foreign to my very nature. It has never occurred to me to keep my opinions to myself. And sometimes that has irritated those around me. I get that. But I have never, ever, EVER required or even assumed that others will share my opinion. I don’t think of myself as an influential or persuasive person. I’m just someone who shoots her mouth off. Take it or leave it. It’s all the same to me.

So the whole concept of someone slaughtering someone else simply because of what they write or say will always shock me. I mean, if you disagree with someone or something, go elsewhere for your information. Change the channel. Buy a different paper. You know what I’m saying? Take a life? Who does that? It’s insane.

Maybe that’s because I firmly believe that people have minds of their own and can draw their own conclusions. I assume that people who think it’s okay to kill someone for their opinion must really think the power of the word is much stronger than I do. They must think that words actually change things. Perhaps they do, sometimes, but let’s be honest. Tomorrow you’ll have forgotten that you even read this, and that’s true of 99 percent of the things that you read, unless you only read things like the preamble to the constitution or Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

The thought that there might be some nut job out there in the blogiverse who is reading my ramblings and thinking, “This chick has got to go,” gives me the shivers. But it won’t shut me up.

Rest in peace, Avijit Roy.

i_love_my_voice_

[Image credit: lorihamann.com]

Visual Cues

Shoebill

This, dear readers, is a Shoebill. It’s a stork-like bird that lives in East Africa. It can get up to almost 5 feet tall. Now I don’t know about you, but if I ran into one of these suckers in a dark alley, I’d soil myself. They look angry and aggressive. They look like they could really f*** you up. Look at those vicious little eyes and that massive, dangerous looking bill!

Actually, unless you’re a fish on its menu, in which case you’re likely to be decapitated in its powerful jaws, this bird is actually quite tame, and will often fly off and abandon its nest if you try to approach. The vast majority of the Shoebill’s time is spent in a zen-like silent and motionless state.

You can’t judge a book by its cover. That’s true with people, too.

It is a natural survival mechanism to see things and draw immediate conclusions, but sometimes it means you’re missing out on opportunities to know some pretty amazing people.

The sweet, generous, and amazing man who bought me this laptop has a two foot long beard. I’m sure that because of that a lot of people make assumptions about him and think they won’t be able to relate to him at all. That’s a shame.

I know someone else who had to have brain surgery decades ago, and because of that half his face sags and he slurs his words when he’s particularly tired. A lot of people actually assume he’s retarded when in fact his IQ is quite high. Babies look at him and cry because he cannot smile. It must be exhausting having to get past the assumptions of every single person you meet before you can have an intelligent conversation.

By all means, trust your survival instinct when you find yourself in a questionable situation. When alone in a parking garage, profile with impunity is my philosophy. But next time you’re in a café, for example, maybe try to allow yourself a few extra minutes to delve deeper into the people that you meet. You never know what treasures you may unearth.

There are a lot of figurative Shoebills in this world. Each one is priceless.