Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.
You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.
A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.
Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).
We assume past performance indicates future probability.
As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.
The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.
Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.
The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?
I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.
One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!
Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!
I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.
Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.