What a complex world we live in. Each day we have to process information about so many situations and make decisions about how to respond. On what basis do we make these decisions? We can fall into the trap of judging people based on the ‘content’ of the situation in front of us. I wonder how often we have the full information about a situation; content AND context. Poor communication is a frequent cause of stress and anxiety for us, however if we become aware of the ‘context’ then a situation can instantly transform. Let me give you an example. A man is standing in a queue at a shop. Content: He has a solid build, tattooed, has a slightly rough appearance, is wearing worn tracksuit pants and shabby singlet and he seems a little shaky. You notice that his eyes look completely bloodshot, red and irritated,…….. you don’t get too close……. You overhear the conversation at the check out. Context: He is relieved to be out of the house today he tells the cashier, as he has just had extensive eye surgery and he’s feeling pretty ordinary. First trip out of the house…… It can be so easy to judge the situation in front of us based on the ‘evidence’ or content, we feel that we see or hear. Often there is so much more to the story in the form of what is the context or the broader parameters of the situation. (eg, this man’s appearance has been partially shaped by recent surgery)
Every situation is unique and often a blanket approach ignores the intricacies of a situation. Here’s another simple example. Content: You are walking down the street and you see a friend walking towards you, you slow down, smile and say hello. Your friend appears to look right through you, does not slow down or acknowledge you and keeps walking. You are feeling a mix of disbelief, anger and indignation. However, you decide to phone her later in the day to find out what was happening for her down the street. Context: You phone her and relay what transpired for you and she sheepishly explains that she normally wears very strong contact lenses, but didn’t put them in today because she likes to have a rest from them occasionally. She literally did not see you! We so often feel that we know all the content but without a deeper exploration into the context of another’s world we can miss an opportunity to understand what is going on around us.
How often do we find ourselves in a situation where we are wondering what just happened between ourselves and another person. We will usually find explanations in our mind based on our current relationship with this person, or our knowledge of them and what we know of their world (eg their health, relationship status, job situation, family dynamics etc). In the example of the woman who was not wearing contact lenses the responses of different people would be so varied. Consider the following emotions and the stories that could accompany them:
Anger; how dare she ignore me! What a nerve….. Wait till I see her next.
Baffled; What on earth just happened then, that is so strange. I wonder what is going on?
Unworthy; That would be right. No-one wants to talk to me. I’m a loser.
Neutral; Oh, She hasn’t responded to me. That’s interesting.
If any of the above respondents had called out the woman’s name and said, “Hey Louise, it’s Cassie, over here. You look like you are in your own little world there, what’s happening?” Suddenly Cassie has attracted Louise’s attention. Louise stops and a conversation ensues; she explains her physical ‘blindness’ to Cassie. Suddenly we have a clear context.
Gaining clarity is all about the willingness to communicate. We can choose to explain the situation in our head without reference to the other person, but this will often be flawed information and guesses. If you are really keen to explore relationships with people you need to be prepared to step in to ask questions in a non judgemental way and then listen carefully to the answers. Often the context is surprising and can teach us a lot about how other people view or experience the world. Then something wonderful can happen. The relationship between people deepens as a result of two people willing to openly and non judgementally share their experiences. Have a beautiful day out there!