Actually

Funny thing. When I was a little kid, a real little kid, like a toddler, I was very outgoing. Okay, I was precocious. As an only child, I had way more interaction with adults than with children, so I spoke, well, much like I do now. Often, in “conversations” with grown-ups, when asked a question, or a clarifying statement was made by the adult, I would preface my response with, “well, actually …” I always sought to be fully understood.

A few years later, some time during elementary school, I became more shy, especially around my peers, kids my own age, I didn’t have a lot of experience with them. This was something I struggled with until early adulthood. I came out of my shell when surrounded by close friends and only after I got to know people very well. This pattern is still present and natural for me, though I am much better at overriding my instinct to be quiet and just be the observer in conversations with more than one person. In my quieter days, I struggled with expressing myself fully. Participating in large, group conversations was a challenge because I was too polite to interject and because I’m so darned soft-spoken, when I did speak, I was rarely heard. When I was heard, I would say what I hoped to say quickly and let someone else reclaim the floor. Often, my thoughts were not fully expressed or understood. I always sought to be fully understood, “well, actually …” But, by that point, the conversation had rapidly moved into another topic and I just let it go.

My career has had a lot to do with my ability to establish my social confidence and outgoingness in group conversations. I have to connect, interact, lead, consult, teach and train groups of adults, both younger and older than I. They look to me for guidance and knowledge, though, in many cases, they are much farther along, professionally, than I. I simply know a certain methodology or software that they don’t, and in that arena, I am wise. I am the master. Often I am speaking for eight continuous hours. And for some of my courses, eight hours a day, for multiple days. I have to rely on jokes and stories and personal experiences to keep them engaged in the less than thrilling content of the class. This I have become very comfortable doing. Know one knows I am shy, but me. Often my class participants have questions or need clarification, sometimes I am even challenged. Always seeking to be fully understood, I patiently reiterate, reinforce and restate the point, “well, actually …” I have to be fully understood, it’s what they’re paying for.

Funny thing. When my kids were born, twenty some years ago, my husband and I swore we’d never speak to them in “baby talk”. We would speak to them in proper English and we would use the tone of voice and vocabulary we use in daily conversation with adults. Our belief was that our children would know how to converse and would have a solid foundation in vocabulary, diction and grammar and wouldn’t have to “unlearn” anything when they got to school. I still believe in this completely. The result? My children always sought to be fully understood, and, if they weren’t, they’d politely correct whomever they were speaking to, “Well, actually …”

This, apparently, is a lifelong pattern for me, that has now perpetuated to the next generation, and is likely to perpetuate again, to the next. We seek to be understood, clearly and completely.

In my recent exploration of books and materials on happiness, peace and relationships, I have come to the realization that being completely understood isn’t always the path we must take.  Usually, it is, but I think we may, at times, overdo it. I do believe that good communication in all of our relationships is paramount. It is important that open, free communication be the base upon which our close relationships are built. The foundation. But, in casual conversation, why is it so important to us that every last detail of every last story be absolutely correctly understood?

I find, in daily conversations with close friends, my Sweetie and my family members, if they state one thing in a manner that leads me to believe they’ve missed a detail or don’t completely understand what I’ve said, or meant, I am compelled, almost obsessively, to correct them. Their minor error in comprehension annoys and frustrates me, “well, actually …” I seek to be fully understood. Funny thing.

Does it really make that much difference if Mom calls my smartphone a “Facebook”? (link). “Well, actually, this is a smartphone (holding up phone) and Facebook is an application on the phone, along with many (hundreds of) others.” She has no idea what I’m saying and it does not matter. At all. The course of history will not be changed by her fully understanding these technologies. Does it really make that much of a difference if a friend thinks all accountants are automatically tax experts?  “Well, actually, I’m an auditor, I don’t ‘do’ tax.” Are meteors going to crash into Earth because they think I prepare tax forms for people when, in fact, I don’t even prepare my own tax return? No. Does it really matter if someone asks how my yoga class was when I was really at a spin class? “Well, actually, I was at spin, not yoga.” What difference does that make? The planet will not spin off its axis for the minor misunderstanding. I was at the gym. Good enough. The details are really not that important in many cases. Constantly correcting people, mid conversation, on unimportant details can really detract from the quality of the conversation. Our annoyance and frustration bleeds through, we seem picky, petty and perturbed. The petty annoyances and frustration we experience at the miniscule error of fact detracts from our peace and joy. Poor quality conversations detract from the peace and happiness of our relationships. It becomes strained. A struggle.

Then, there are the more philosophical conversations we have with people. These can become quite passionate, heated and adversarial if we insist on being fully understood. Funny thing. In conversations where opinions and philosophies are confused with fact, we don’t feel “fully understood” unless we “convert” others to our way of thinking. I was recently in a conversation with someone close to me, and, funny thing, I have forgotten the exact topic of the conversation, though it was “philosophical” in nature, and, throughout the conversation I was told, “passionately” that I was wrong. “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” “You’re wrong!” I felt, strongly, that I was right. I had two choices, to yell back, “Well, actually …” and get nowhere in resolving our philosophical difference, or, just let it go. It’s a matter of opinion, there is no right, there is no wrong and no one is going to walk away feeling fully understood. We can just walk away, meaning move to another topic, with an appreciation for the other person’s philosophy, and that’s as good as it’s going to get. Sometimes, nodding in appreciation, even if misunderstood as nodding in agreement, is the only thing to do. Be the bigger person, use a smaller voice, move on to another topic. It doesn’t negate your belief at all. You’re still right, and so are they. It’s a “win/win”. Funny thing, dead horses cannot run no matter how hard you beat them.

There are people that spend the major portion of every day, of every conversation, trying to yell, scream, and bash people into adopting their philosophy, their beliefs. The man I was married to was just such a character. His Facebook wall, oh, wow, I just dated myself, I mean, his Facebook timeline is littered with political posts ranging from mildly humorous to hateful and venomous, bordering treasonous. Any topic raised will quickly turn to politics. Funny thing. His twin brother is as passionate, but on the opposite end of the spectrum. They will never convince each other to change their philosophies, but they’re likely to die of a stroke trying. Funny thing, louder isn’t “righter.” “Well, actually!!!!!”

Funny thing. There is right and wrong and there is no right or wrong. What I’m saying, just to be fully understood, is there is a difference between “knowing right from wrong” and “being right or wrong”.

“Knowing right from wrong” pertains to morals. Personally, I like to limit this to what I’d call “God’s laws.” Think Ten Commandments. We know it is wrong to kill another person unless in self-defense. We know it is wrong to steal. We know it is wrong to be unfaithful. These are absolutes. Right. Wrong. No question. “Knowing right from wrong” is for the “biggies”.

“Being right or wrong” addresses matters of opinion, philosophies and methodologies. And, unless you’re taking an exam on the material in a class, there is no right or wrong. We need to learn to express our opinion, listen to the other opinions, appreciate both positions and move on to the next topic. Politics, religion, science, sports teams, recipes, gay marriage, driving directions from one point to another, legalization of marijuana, global warming, fashion, or our thoughts on the Duck Dynasty debacle; there is no right or wrong and we don’t need to convince anyone else to our way of thinking in order to be fully understood on these types of topics or issues. Funny thing. Do you fully understand?

Well, actually …

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