Like the image above, there is often distortion or a blurriness in exactly how we see ourselves and how others see us. This distortion explains why and how we misunderstand each other so quickly. For example, some close colleagues tell me that when I focus intensely on a work project, I can appear less approachable, when nothing could be farther from how I would react if they did approach. This misperception results in the other person interacting or not interacting with me according to this misinterpretation of my appearance. If this misconception of my appearance continues, I might try to counter this misperception by altering this distorted perception by expending energy and changing how I appear. A sort of mask or persona is then created. This frequently creates a series of complex interactions as we each attempt to connect and be understood by others.
Now, think about the language we use describe ourselves, our relationships, beliefs, feelings, and actions, and you might appreciate why things quickly go sideways when it comes to being understood. When we express our belief or meaning through images, art, poetry, myths or other symbols, we enter a kind of transcendent world of relating that often transcends a spoken langauge. In Bill Moyer's interview with Joseph Campbell, author of "The Hero With A Thousand Faces", Campbell says, "The best things can't be told, because they transcend thought. The second best are misunderstood because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought about. The third best are what we talk about." This difficulty in language and our intended meaning appears to further complicate our communications when we are trying to describe something to someone that just seems out of their grasp to understand.
I was raised within a Baptist religious tradition for most of my childhood, up to young adulthood. I began to question certain assumptions, symbols and stories embedded in my religious tradition. My views of the transcendent and the various associated meanings gradually shifted with more life experience and study. My shift in beliefs resulted in using different forms of expressions, which were not quite so literal. This often compounded relationship misunderstandings with peers within my past religious community, who frequently interpreted religious terms primarily literally, biblically and historically.
As a result of appreciating how complex communication is, together with my own desire to connect and understand others, I now focus on being curious about other's beliefs, meanings, differences and experiences. Much more tolerant of differences. While I don't believe this focus alone will rid relationships of all distortions or misunderstanding off one another, being curious in this way has proven transformative, by providing a much bigger window through which to see, understand and connect with others.
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