Last week my eleven year old daughter asked me, “Mom, do you ever wish you could live inside someone else’s body…”
For a split second I thought, “Oh no…I don’t want you to wish you are anybody but you.”
Then…(wait for it) she finished her thought…
“…so you can know what someone else is thinking, and maybe understand why they act the way they do?”
“YES!” I smiled and shouted exuberantly, “ALL THE TIME!”
(Oh my God, this kid is definitely mine).
While I obviously cannot live within someone else’s body, I do often try to look at things from another’s perspective. I try to get into their head and to understand them.
This practice in shifting perspective can be an incredible gateway to compassion. In doing so we begin to try to truly understand each other…
But it can also be dangerous.
Here’s why –
It can be a real impediment to true connection and understanding, when we assume we understand another’s thoughts and motivations without actually Asking. When we presume to know someone’s heart without being curious about whether or not we are actually right…this can be a huge mistake.
It can actually wreak havoc on our relationships.
I spend a lot (a LOT) of time analyzing my own thoughts…admittedly WAY more time then I should. So, I think it is only natural that I would also spend a lot of time trying to analyze the thoughts and behaviors of others.
More than a few times when I have stopped to actually ASK what someone is thinking instead of assuming that I know...I have been surprised by the answer.
How do you feel?
What are you thinking?
This is what I saw/felt/heard in your words or actions….
Is that what you meant?
I had a conversation recently that went something like this (I am paraphrasing)…
I know you are mad at me.
Actually I’m not. I was only mad for like ten minutes, and then I let it go.
What made you let it go?
I realized that I understood why you did what you did.
And why is that?
Because of XYZ.
Actually, that’s not why. It was because of ABC.
Oh…well that’s interesting…can you explain that?
A whole new and in-depth conversation evolved from that….a conversation and a level of understanding we never would have come to if we had not each been curious.
Even though I was being compassionate and forgiving, I did not truly understand.
I had “let it go,” but without an authentic understanding of what lay in her heart.
So…the next time I was bothered by someone’s actions, I reached out. I told him this was how I perceived the situation. I asked…
Am I right?
I wasn’t right…and a conversation evolved from there.
As Glennon Doyle says, “Less judgement, more curiosity.”
This doesn’t work with everyone, or in every situation of course. Sometimes people are not ready, willing or able to delve into why they said what they said, or why they did what they did...or what that might mean.
You can ask, but that doesn’t mean you will get an answer with any real depth to it.
More and more I realize how much I deeply appreciate the people in my life who are willing engage with me in this way. When a person can connect with themselves and give a thoughtful response to the question, WHY?
Somehow it still surprises me…it even takes my breath away. I feel humbled and grateful to know someone else’s truth. It is so brave to say – yes, I want you to understand me…to truly know my heart. I trust you to at least try to understand me, even if you may not like what I have to say.
In a way it feels like magic –
You mean…all I have to do is ask, and you’ll tell me what lies within you? It can’t possibly be that easy.
Yet with some people, it is. So, to those people in my life…thank you for sharing your heart and your mind with me. I think you are beautiful…and fascinating.
Sometimes, though, we are left to draw our own conclusions. When this happens, perspective and compassion are useful tools, but I think in using them we must always remember we are drawing our own conclusion, based only on our own perception…
This does not make it true.
In my constant quest to understand myself and the people around me, I know I need to respect the fact that some questions need breathing space.
The answers are not always immediately clear. There are some questions we are not ready to answer, and some answers we are not ready to hear.