It’s the evening of municipal elections, which has me thinking about how we get a say in the things that influence our lives. I hope all who are able did vote, but that’s not really the topic of the blog. Really, what I’m pondering is how often we feel disappointed by the choices or actions of people in our lives. The question of the day is “Did I let my feelings be known?”
Most of you know that I do counselling with couples and with individuals who are often concerned about relationships. A frequent complaint is that “He/she didn’t take my feelings into consideration”. Sometimes that’s pretty overt, where one party just says they don’t care. Most of the time, it’s a little less clear: “I didn’t think it mattered to you”; “You didn’t tell me it mattered”; “You can never make up your mind”; “It isn’t about you”; etc. Or, the big one, “You agreed when I brought it up, so why are you mad about it now?”
I believe that these kind of disappointments, about what to have for dinner, what movie to see, where to vacation, what to share with others about private issues, who to invite to an event or to visit, whether one goes somewhere/does something/initiates or doesn’t, have one thing in common: assumptions.
Assumptions about what another person should or could understand (if they really wanted to!) seem to be at the heart of personal conflict. Some of the assumptions start right at the beginning, when we think we know how the other person thinks based on some characteristics they have, i.e. gender, culture, religion, family background, ethnicity, place of origin, etc. Other assumptions develop over time, like habits, where we draw out memory of how another person used to or once reacted to a situation, and generalize it well beyond the parameters of the original reactions. Think “You didn’t like that concert we went to, so now I don’t even suggest any musical or public event anymore”. The damage of this kind of generalization isn’t so much the decisions it leads to, but the silent resentment that the assumer carries. Another example would be a memory based assumption that the other person doesn’t want to know or hear about your interests, based upon a time or two when they were distracted, upset or angry about some aspect of the discussion. That can lead to silence, even secrecy.
Assumptions are like saying “It doesn’t matter what I want”. Sometimes, I suppose that’s true, in the sense that what I want doesn’t always carry the day. For example, the election might not end with the results I voted for. That hasn’t ever stopped me from voting though. Assumptions are self-protective in some ways. If I believe that my say doesn’t matter, and act accordingly, I don’t have to risk being turned down. But I do risk living as if I don’t matter, and missing some opportunities to have a better life.
You do have a say in the things that affect your life. You may not always get your way, but you can participate in the process. Take a look at the people around you. Do you have assumptions about how or whether they value your input? Have you checked those assumptions recently? I don’t mean set up a test, I mean ask some questions, share your point of view. What do you have to lose? Face, if your negative assumptions are confirmed? The security of certainty, even if it does limit your life? The status quo, for better or worse? More to the point, what do you have to gain? Better understanding of another person? More opportunity for growth? Letting go of patterns that hold you in silence and resentment?
So go ahead, vote in your own life. Ask questions. Participate actively in your relationships.