xShe sat with her arms crossed, creating a barrier between her and her father. In a paisley pink dress and leather bound sandals that snaked up her calf, she had the air of a volatile nymph.
“Why don’t you hear me?! I’m not saying that music is bad, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t invest in it when there’s families without food! When people don’t have jobs! The government shouldn’t be subsidising these programs! They just shouldn’t Dad! It’s not fair. The money should be going to programs that actually create work for more than a handful of people. You think Pedro is going to pay his bills as a violinist? No, he won’t, and you know it!”
Sporting a goth-light appearance, her boyfriend shifted to the right as a passive signal that her anger had gone from simmering to volcanic. “Sara, just listen.”
Pulling his button down silk shirt out of the back of his jeans, her father leaned forward and smiled. “May I?” he whispered, reaching for her hand, but she glowered and pulled it away.
“What? What do you want to say Dad? Just say it!”
“Listen, we all know I’m biased, but music is more than just a hobby, it’s a way of being. Throughout your entire life I tried to show you how to listen, how to pick out different notes, distinguishing one from the other. This skill allows you to be a better listener over all, and it gives you a universal language, that sings to everyone. Honey, music may not give you job security as a strict profession, but it will give you incredible skills that can be applied in different professions – finding patterns where others can’t find them. Seeing harmony where others see discord. Music is filled with incredible tools that can be applied in a thousand different ways. Does this make sense?”
Slamming her glass down, she snapped, “No it doesn’t! While you went off to go play gigs in bars at night, Mom had to do everything and we were still broke! So no Dad, I don’t see your guru perspective. What I see is a man who eventually got his break, but who made everyone else suffer in the meantime. So do I think the government should encourage this, no I don’t! Because I know the pain it causes!”
Her anger never let up that evening. For hours I watched the father plead with his daughter to let go of her anger. His own tears of frustration morphed into pain and anguish. He begged for forgiveness, praying that she would not fault an art that had no direct correlation with her own pain. His choices were his own, and the consequences were what they were. He would take ownership, but she couldn’t take away something that perpetually brings immense amounts of joy to the masses. She simply couldn’t.
She pulled her arms into herself, forcing her breasts to spill over. “No, I don’t have to do anything! And that means talk to you!”
Getting up to leave, her father quickly followed after and grabbed her, pulled her close and whispered, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”
From what I could tell as a voyeur to their riveting conversation that night in crowded Lisbon restaurant, the daughter’s position never changed but their empathy towards one another did. For the first time in 25 some-odd years, they found a common place to dialogue and feel the other person’s pain.
The irony is that no matter how hard we try, the other person may never understand our point of view. They may never agree with our position nor support our way of thinking. But if we’re willing to be vulnerable, and show the underbelly of our emotions, there’s a good chance that the walls will come tumbling down.
Here are 3 ways to overcome misunderstandings:
- Ask “Why?” – When we feel affronted it’s easy to dig in our heels and tell the world to bugger off. It’s a wall we create to protect our hearts from more pain and anguish, unfortunately it typically backfires. When we feel defensive, our arms protect our squishy insides, our face folds in on itself to indicate rage and our heart beats a thousand miles an hour to kick in our “fight or flight” hormones. What does the other person do…the same! We’re mirrors of one another. By asking yourself, “why are they angry? Why don’t they see my point of view? Where are they coming from?” we’re allowing ourselves to see through someone else’s lens instead of reacting to their behaviors. Their experience is their own, but their pain is the same as ours. Emotions are universal. By asking “why” we’re climbing into their own soft spot to see where the volcano began.
- Let down the Wall – Show your own pain and frustration. It’s a hell of a lot easier to empathise with tears than it is with rage. Rage can escalate, while tears can satiate. By sharing why you’re feeling the way you are, we’re connecting to the human infront of us, rather than the monster inside of us.
- Let go of Control – The best we can do is “see” the person in front of us and phrase the information in a way they’re more likely to be receptive. But we can’t control their reactions, their needs or their desires. If someone isn’t signing onto our position, then respect their viewpoint and make choices that are good for you. We can’t force someone to like, love, agree or play with us, but we can choose our next steps.
Inside every human being is a person who simply wants to be loved and respected. By empathizing with their position, their life experiences and their feelings, we’re not only validating them as an individual, but us as a fellow human. Maybe it’s worth a try.