I was getting the paging slips in the stacks and I saw a lady sitting sideways in a chair near the computers. She was working on some paperwork. I thought about it, and wondered if there was some advantage to sitting that way. I’m always looking for new ways to do things. That is the main reason why I like learning about different cultures and reading biographies.
I asked her if there was an advantage to how she was sitting and she took it as if I was chastising her. She said she was just waiting for #18 to be available. Then she looked at my tag and asked if I was a librarian. I said no, but I work here.
“I can take a hint, I’m in the way of the walkway” she said sheepishly. I assured her that she wasn’t in the way. I said “If I needed you to move, I’d ask you to. That isn’t why I’m asking. I’m legitimately interested if there is an advantage.” I thought that maybe it improves core strength, or her legs are short and it helps her. I wouldn’t know unless I asked.
She didn’t believe me, looked around and said “It must be really selfish of me to take up all this space” and started to gather up all of her papers. I again assured her that was not the reason I was asking.
She got up, said “I’m sorry” – and went to stand near the computer that she had a reservation for. It was still in use, so it wasn’t time for her to use it yet. This would only annoy the person using it. I shook my head and walked away.
This kind of conversation was normal in my house when I was growing up. People thought they could read each other’s minds, and acted accordingly. They never listened to what was being said, but what they thought the other person meant. They always assumed the worst. They always got it wrong. It was bad mind reading. This lady must have grown up in the same kind of household.
I’ve come to realize the insanity of this way of (not) communicating. I’ve also realized that I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. It has to be hard to live in a space in your head where you are constantly second-guessing what people are saying, and assuming the worst.
There is something about being able to read social clues, sure. But there also has to be something about stating your mind, and being honest about what you need. Conversations are two-way, after all. If you grow up with people who won’t honestly express themselves, then you have to try to guess what they mean.
Too many people hope that others will guess what they mean, and won’t say it. They are afraid of saying what they want or need or feel out of fear of hurting someone else’s feelings. Then their feelings get hurt, because their needs aren’t being met.
I heard about a time in the pool at the water aerobics class where a new lady was too close to the regulars, and they were being pushed closer and closer to the deep end. They had no more room to get out of her way. They kept glaring at her, hoping she’d get the hint. When a regular complained about it to me later in the changing room, I asked – “Did you say anything to her?” No. She didn’t. So they all became more and more angry, and the new lady didn’t learn that what she was doing was causing a problem. They expected her to read their minds.
We have to learn to say what we think. We have to learn to be adults and use our words. Otherwise, just like toddlers, we will get more and more frustrated and more and more angry.
We aren’t being nice when we ignore our own feelings. And we aren’t being smart when we try to read other people’s minds. And we aren’t responsible for the feelings of others. This doesn’t mean to not care or be hateful. It means that their feelings are their feelings. If they get mad, that is their choice. If we say what we feel or need in an honest and kind manner, then we have done what we are supposed to do.