If you respond to hole questionhat is actually said, life is far, far simpler. And if you ask a question and receive an answer, believing that answer is also by far the simplest choice. For everyone. 

If you know for certain that you’re with an untrustworthy person, by all means filter; otherwise, why not give them the best possible chance of being understood? Wait, even that “untrustworthy” person has to be telling the truth sometimes, right?

Rumi, in the 13′ century, said that there are three gates a thought should go through before passing the lips:

Is it true?

Is it necessary?

Is it kind?

Is it true? When someone tells or asks you something, assuming you know ‘where that came from’ is a very dangerous business, especially when you assign motives and even more-so when the motives you assign align with yours, rather than your having heard what was simply, actually spoken.

The question of truth is a knotty one in the 21′ century because “I mean it when it comes out of my mouth” currently passes for truth. “I feel it so it must be true” and especially “I believe it even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary” are considered verified sources, so I will leave that nit unpicked and move on.

Is it necessary? If it’s likely to be hurtful then no.

Are you saying something your listener has a reasonable chance of knowing already? a probable chance? I can’t tell you how many folks are so excited they know the meaning of my name that they instruct me in its meaning. Wait a second! These are educated, reasonable, well-mannered people, assuming that I don’t know what my own name means. Had they considered the level of insult inherent in showing off their knowledge, they wouldn’t have made that incredibly rude assumption, now would they? Not to mention, I already have that information.

Say you ask a question, straightforward, specific, simple. More often than I care to iterate, the answer will be to some portion of the question – say, the portion on which the responder has expertise, or which makes the responder feel important – rather than to your question. Wouldn’t necessity suggest you’re seeking an answer to the whole thing?

Of course, if a partial answer is part of the process of answering the whole, great! But I’ll assign that a 2% frequency rate – I’m being generous, I can’t remember that ever having happened but it may have done. And yes, I’m leaving out all of the people who do hear when they listen, who do answer what was asked, rather than effecting simultaneous translation to what they expect or desire or fear to have heard. There are a lot of people who can and do hear when they listen, thank the powers-that-be, and one of the things I work at daily is surrounding myself with them. Parenthetically, I’m fascinated by the number of folks who value me because I hear them from their pov but who are unable or unwilling to initiate or reciprocate the behavior.

Hearing through filters. We all do it to some extent, especially in this century when “almost-news” is treated as news, as is “false news.” We’re in perilous times and “common sense” has gone the way of all good things, but it’s easily replaced with critical thinking, rather than knee-jerk response. Back onto my name, I won an award but its spelling was mangled. I got in touch with the administrator and was fought with. About my name. I who had wrought the play, I who had offered it, I who had earned the award. Turns out, there was confusion between myself and a similarly named playwright – did they mean to give the award to her? wow is that another topic – and after a long series of emails, I finally convinced the admin that I was I, and my name is my name.

So hearing through filters may make your life more interesting or exciting, may make you feel more needed, more important, more noticed – but it also makes the person you’re listening to into someone they’re not, makes them have said something they did not, makes you assign blame to them for things which likely weren’t their intent. You turn them into someone who could be expected to behave in ways they never have. And then if you share that “conversation” with others…

Is it kind?

Generally, it is. But even if it isn’t, responding as if it had been could save you and the other person (and your relationship, I have the temerity to say) a world of hurt. And it goes without saying – but I’m saying it – that if your intent is to be unkind, go away, leave me alone, never darken my door again.


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