By Monica Berg
In life, there is what you wish you had done and what you did, and what you wish you had said, and what you actually said. Hindsight is a painful lens to look through. Yet, other times, your intentions were good, your execution was pretty spot-on and still, someone has taken offense.
Of all the hurts in life, misunderstandings are amongst the most annoying, because they are often innocent enough, but sometimes misunderstandings occur because there is an underlying issue.
Unintended or not, misunderstandings have the ability to create separation between people. Avoiding misunderstandings cannot be achieved by trying to make all your words, choices, and actions perfect. We are not in control of how others see us; all we can control is how we view the world. And the world is a pretty nuanced place!
Let go of your expectations of what people should or shouldn’t be or did or didn’t do; not everyone sees the world the same way. I saw an interview with John Mayer, where he said, “Life is like a box of crayons. Most people are the 8 color boxes, but what you’re really looking for are the 64 color boxes with the sharpeners on the back.”
I, too, like the 64 colors, and I have certainly worn down a few colors, but the beauty is that there are so many more to choose from.
When two people aren’t coloring with the same set of crayons, they can’t see the nuances. I may have been using 4 different crayons: gold, canary, amber, and copper, but they only see yellow. My thoughts and actions, so obvious to me, are incomprehensible to someone who only has access to the 8 color set.
This is not to say that those with a wider range of expression are superior. To the contrary! Through understanding that some people are incapable of seeing your coppers and ambers, then you stop expecting them to! (Would you ever look down on someone who is red/green color blind? Of course not.) It’s about understanding the capacity that others have to understand you. On a fundamental level, understand that others will not see your actions as you do, then you can manage your expectations of your interactions with these people.
When we are disappointed or upset with another person we allow our hurt to cause separation. The goal is to get to the place where you don’t judge them, any more than you would judge a dolphin for being narrow-minded — only staying in water and not trying out land, or an infant for not being potty-trained. I can still appreciate and see their beauty while understanding that they are not able to comprehend my actions from a limited palette.
One of the greatest human misconceptions is that we think everyone else is fundamentally the same as us –– that they are working with the same set of crayons. We intrinsically believe that how we perceive good and evil is universal, that what strikes us as tragic or hilarious will largely be the experience shared by everyone else. In other words, your values, beliefs, preferences, and behavior are ‘normal’ and other ‘normal’ people are pretty much the same as you. When you believe this way, you live with a sort of built-in approval system. You feel supported and validated, under the influence of what psychologists call a false consensus (meaning you only think everyone agrees with you). This phenomenon makes you feel secure with whatever number of crayons you are working with, providing high ground from which to judge other people’s behaviors.
People are not the same. They may want a lot of the same things, but how they think, feel, and form opinions about the world can be radically different from you. Let go of the belief that you represent ‘normal’ and by extensions right and wrong.
You can spend a lifetime trying to explain yourself to specific people, but it will be futile. You’re just working with a different set of crayons. The only way to avoid misunderstandings with an 8 box set is to stop using your other 56 colors! Even then, good luck with that! As for how they perceive you, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite sayings, “Those that matter don’t mind, and those that mind don’t matter.”—Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)
Monica Berg is a spiritual teacher, writer and guide who specializes in assisting people as they identify and overcome life’s challenges so they can reach their greatest potential.