When we walk down a street we do not look at every building and every feature of our environment. In many ways we are on autopilot, just walking along. We know this street, we have things to do. No time for sight seeing today.
Even when we walk down a new street we have never seen before we don't normally stop at every building and lamppost. We don't need a paper map even, we have a pretty good mental map. It's a street, we have a good idea of what a street is. We know what to expect and what not to expect.
When we talk with our friends the topic of the conversation is rarely so novel that we have to stop and question every word and phrase. We have a pretty good mental map of the issues and perspectives. We all share this map to a degree and the conversation is very much about updating each other as to make the map as similar in each others heads as possible. We sometimes query each other but mostly we just pour out perspectives and experiences. We chat.
Which is great, it provides harmony and a sense of sharing, of being part of a group.
When we don't understand exactly what someone is saying we tend to gloss over it assuming we know, relying on our map. Often we will not even know we do not understand someone, we will think we do but we are just plain wrong. Questions can sometimes seem not for the benefit of the questioner who sees a blank patch and wants to know what's on the other persons map, but rather as questioning the other persons map to learn more about it. And frictions arise. You know how attitude doesn't need the 'bad' in front of it as in 'bad attitude' anymore, it's taken as a given? Well look at the word 'question'. If you 'question' someone that is often seen as you are questioning their knowledge or intent, in other words you actually doubt them. This is dangerous. Ever experienced it? People taking questions as criticism? Taking it 'personally?' What 'personally' has come to mean here I have no idea by the way.
Learning about a new city or even the one we live in requires effort, the effort to stop and look around. Ask yourself, is that really just a bank? What does it look like it used to be? The grumpy lady at the newsagent. Is she just grumpy, or is there anything else about her which makes her seem grumpy?
Exploring means entering uncharted territory. Or, when the territory is charted, throwing away the chart. Throwing way the map.
Learning what goes on inside another persons head is pretty much the same. Question. Listen aggressively. Don't assume. It's hard. I wrote this not so much as a lesson for anyone but as a reminder for myself to keep trying. How can we interface through computers or telephones or books if we cannot interface well in a conversation?
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