“There is no truth. There is only perception.”Gustave Flaubert.
There’s a Netflix series called “The Fosters”. A family drama about a lesbian couple raising one biological and four adopted children.
One morning, I was reflecting on a recent emotionally charged experience during which I lost my cool. It reminded me of a scene from an episode of The Fosters. It involved drawing a symbol on a piece of paper, placing it in the middle of a table and asking each of the people seated around the table to describe in a single word, what they see.
A very simple yet powerful activity that reminded me of The Blind Men and The Elephant parable. Depending on where you are seated around the table, what you see when you look at the symbol, will be different.
- The first person may see the letter “m”
- The next person may see the letter “e”
- The person after that, the number “3”
- Another person, the letter “w”
- Others may see something else
Of course, they would all be right. From their perspective.
So, what does this have to do with my emotionally charged experience?
It was late one evening after a particularly bad day. A day spent caring for my elderly father, sparring with family over the tiniest issues and dealing with a big box store’s convoluted return policy. Punctuated by the general malaise of Covid isolation and fatigue.
The day was just about to get worse.
We receive a call from a younger acquaintance who is clearly upset about something. As she continued to rant, all I could think about was how far from the truth her claims and accusations were. It was as if our character was being defamed if not, assassinated. We, and especially my wife, did not deserve it.
This went back and forth for a while with my wife taking the high road and playing peacekeeper. It felt like a Bay of Pigs standoff filled with innuendo and misdirection. Finally, I had had enough. So, I launched a verbal assault of my own peppered with a few expletives.
Looking back, I realize it was wrong of me to have lost my composure. Being older, I should have heeded my wife’s advice and modelling to be “kinder, wiser and stronger”.
In that moment, no amount of discourse would’ve changed what I vehemently saw as the letter “m” and what she saw equally vehemently, as the number “3”. Just accept both versions of the truth and focus on moving forward.
So, what would I do differently the next time?
- Over-communicate. It was a lack of consistent and inclusive communication that led to the incident in the first place. When we don’t have a shared big picture, we tend to fill in the gaps with our own assumptions.
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood. That’s one of my favourite habits from Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. If I had taken the time to look at the “m” from her side of the table, I would’ve clearly seen the “3”.
Note to self: At the fork in the road, take the high road!