Not long ago I participated in a conversation with Darrell and Jessica. Darrell said very little, and it didn’t take long to discover why. Jessica criticized him, contradicted him, and otherwise dismissed or attacked him with every other breath she took. Long ago Darrell had learned that he’d never win a conflict with her, so he responded by emotionally and verbally withdrawing. Of course one of her vigorous complaints was that he withdrew from her.
At one point I asked Darrell a question, and before he could speak four words, she interrupted to say, “No,” followed by an energetic rebuttal of his opinion.
After she spoke a sentence or two, I said, “Jessica, do you realize what you just did?”
Genuinely surprised, she said, “No, what?”
“For years you’ve been complaining that Darrell never expresses his own opinion, but when he did just that moments ago, he couldn’t even finish his sentence before you interrupted to disagree and make him feel insignificant.”
“I wasn’t trying to contradict him,” she said.
“I believe you, but you also were not LISTENING to him. You may not have meant to contradict him, but you did a great job of it, and he really hated it. It makes him not want to ever speak if you’re in the room.”
“I think that’s a little strong.”
“No, not at all. When I just talked about your not listening, and his not wanting to ever speak again, you didn’t notice that he was vigorously nodding his head. You didn’t see that because you were too focused on being right.”
“I didn’t mean to do that.”
“And I believe you. But you didn’t mean NOT to either. You simply don’t think about him. You don’t care about his happiness, so you would hardly notice if you were being thoughtless. You are critical, angry, and controlling so much of the time that you don’t even notice it anymore until the level reaches forest fire proportions. You don’t even NOTICE the small fires you set everywhere you go.”
One summer evening I was talking to a friend, Mark, in my driveway. Increasingly his face revealed an inner discomfort, and finally he said, “How can you even think with all that noise?”
“What noise?” I asked.
He laughed, gestured all around us, and said, “THAT noise.”
I listened more closely and finally heard what he was talking about: katydids, bullfrogs, tree frogs, and other nocturnal creatures that combined to create a noise so loud that it was difficult to hear another person speaking two feet away if they weren’t shouting. But I had lived with this noise for so long that it faded into the background. Until Mark mentioned it, I didn’t even hear it.
Many of us have been afraid, angry, controlling, and more for so long that our feelings and behaviors have filled our world and become so comfortable that we don’t notice them anymore. It all becomes background noise. We’re blind to what we’re feeling and doing—as Jessica was surprised to learn that she had been critical and controlling of Darrell—so we don’t realize that the people around us are responding to us.
We must be more aware of our feelings and choices. Often we need wise men and women to make observations that we are incapable of making ourselves—much as Mark had to point out to me the noise of the creatures of the night. As we become aware of how we really feel, and how we behave, we can finally begin to choose to feel and behave in more loving—and certainly more productive—ways.
Find genuine happiness now and forever.
READ OR LISTEN TO: