We need to talk. Our relationship is based on faulty assumptions, and I would like to take this opportunity to clear up some of those assumptions. I know the title of this post is a cliché. It is also accurate in this case. Like many accurate statements, though, it’s not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. We can fix that – at least some of it – in this ramble-y post. Let’s begin with a relationship review.
How did we meet? Maybe we should begin with, “Have we met?” The word meeting means something different than it meant a few short years ago. In the past, saying “we have met” meant we’d been together in person. Now? “We have met” can include meeting online. It could mean we’ve been in a video conference of some kind, where we spoke and saw each other in real time. We may have been hundreds – or even thousands – of miles apart, physically.
We may interact via email only. We may also interact only online – perhaps via (mostly public) social media.
Perhaps we met because of my work because I write and speak often, and I often travel to international conferences.
What do we know about each other? We probably know each other’s name. Or, at least, we may know each other’s handle, which is an identity we create for use on social media. Do we know each other’s birthday? We don’t need to remember if we allow others to see our birthday on many social media platforms. Do we know each other’s age? Do we know each other’s relationship status? Do we know how our relationships are working out at the moment?
Perhaps we know about our respective careers because I am an active communicator in my field.
Do we know each other’s politics? Religion? Beliefs? Prejudices? Thoughts? We may get glimpses into these topics, depending upon how transparent we wish to be publicly and / or in more private communications such as email or direct messaging.
Do we make assumptions about each other’s politics, religion, beliefs, prejudices, and thoughts?
Yes. Yes we do.
What happens when one of us learns something about the other that violates our assumption(s)? This is the right question. I will ask it less generically: What do you do when you learn I am different than you assumed?
Before We Go There…
Let’s talk about assumptions. One definition of assumption is “a thing that is accepted as true or as certain to happen, without proof.” This is the definition upon which I would like to focus – and I would like to focus on it in the context of the right question (What do you do when you learn I am different than you assumed?).
I said or wrote something – in a book or blog post, or during a presentation or webinar:
- You heard / read me say or write it
- You know what I said / wrote
- You assume I meant thus and such when I said or wrote it
Can you prove your assumption?
Is it possible I meant something completely different than your assumption?
Assuming you are correct, do you know why I believe what I said or wrote?
How will you respond? Three possible responses are:
- You may ignore me
- You may seek clarity on what I meant
- You may attack
Ignoring me may be the best option, especially if we disagree. It’s certainly the easiest option. You don’t have to ignore everything. You may choose to continue reading and listening. Perhaps you will learn more, or learn more about a topic in which I have experience – something that you may find useful.
You could reach out with a question similar to, “Are you saying ___?” or “Can you clarify ___?” Beyond being civil (which is sorely lacking in much discourse today), seeking clarification has the advantage of demonstrating a willingness to learn what I (in this case) believe. When I feel heard, I am more open to hearing your thoughts. And vice versa. I strive to ask probing questions in each and every discourse. I am sure you do, as well. The key to maintaining civility (for me, at least) is believing (perhaps without proof – what do we call that? That’s right, it’s an assumption! And just like that, we’re tumbling down the meta rabbit hole) we are having a civil discourse.
I often fail at this. Often. When I land in these conversations and exercise poor judgment or misinterpret someone’s words, I strive to:
- Own my mistake
Regarding poor judgment and misinterpretations: I am more apt to misjudge and misinterpret when I am exhausted. I become exhausted these days more than you may imagine. I am guilty of a line from a Toby Keith song:
“Now my body says ‘Oh, You can’t do this boy’,– Toby Keith, As Good As I Once Was
But my pride says ‘Oh yes you can.'”
Is being exhausted a valid excuse? Not even close. That’s why I end up apologizing early and often.
A few people have unsubscribed to my newsletter with comments disparaging my faith and / or politics. I’ve been accused of hating people. I’ve been called a racist so many times the word has lost a lot of earlier context and all sting. That’s a shame because there are people out there who are really and truly racists and this misuse of the adjective has had a similar effect on them. “Racist” has been diminished to mean “I disagree.”
Have you ever had an argument with a significant other? If so, did they call the relationship into question? For example, did they say something like, “Well, maybe we should not be together if you feel that way!” When that happens, your significant other may be serious. Or they could be trying to escalate the argument because it needs to be escalated to the foundations of the relationship. Or your significant other could be looking to win the argument and willing to tear down the relationship to do so.
To me, this last motive is similar to calling someone “a racist” these days. If you have bona fide proof someone behaved in a racist manner (a picture of that person wearing black face in their high school yearbook, for example), then call them on that.
If you simply disagree, why not just say, “I disagree”?
It’s because we all want to appeal to a higher standard – a principle instead of mere preference. It’s actually a sign of weakness to escalate an argument. Unnecessary escalation is voting “No Confidence” on your argument. It’s saying, “I can’t prove I’m right, but I want to win.” If you’re there, I need to share something with you. Before I do, I want you to know that I’ve not written a single word in this post in anger. The emotion I’ve felt as I’ve written? Sorrow. What I want to share with you is:
I don’t care what you think.– Andy, circa 2020
It’s a fact. With very few exceptions, I do not care what others think – especially of me. Not caring what others think is a by-product of living on mission. You may think my mission has to do with technology. If that’s what you think, you are as wrong as wrong can be. You’ve made an incorrect assumption (as most assumptions are).
Does that mean I ignore the advice of others? Of course not. One of the chapters in Jim McCarthy’s excellent book titled Dynamics of Software Development is called “Don’t Flip the Bozo Bit.” It alludes to dismissing someone who escalates matters beyond reason. Can you flip the Bozo bit on me? Yep, and you wouldn’t be the first or the last.
I could do the same to you but I rarely do such a thing. You may think that’s awesome until you realize the reason I rarely flip the Bozo bit because I rarely care enough about what others think of me to go to the effort of flipping a bit.
The risk with flipping the Bozo bit – especially publicly – is you are gambling your Bozo will never do anything nice or helpful in the eyes of anyone who reads or hears about your “bit flipping” message. If your Bozo helps someone in the future, “Bozo-bit-swapping” occurs. Your Bozo’s bit is reset and your Bozo bit is flipped.
Don’t assume this means I do not care about others at all. That would be an assumption; an(other) incorrect one. I care very much about others. It’s why I seek to help others.
What others think, though? Not so much – especially what others think about me.
I merely scratched the surface of assumptions in this post. This post is not exhaustive. This post contains assumptions with which you disagree. It is what it is.
How will you respond?
Me? I’m going to enjoy some family time, and thank God that I can.