Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why It Is So Hard To Accept Another Point Of View

Jenny was raised in a loving home, and like most children, firmly believed that everything her parents said was true, and that the way they lived was the right way to live. Great value was given to cleanliness and keeping things in their place, and Jenny was highly praised for every task she learned to accomplish.

When Jenny went to college there was some relaxing of Mom's housekeeping standards because she shared her room with two other girls. Her personal belongings were kept neat and orderly, the only way she knew how. It came naturally without forethought - it was part of her unconscious identity.

Tom also grew up in a home full of love with a brother and sister close to his own age. His father taught Zoology at the local college, and enthusiastically introduced his children to the wonders of “all things great and small.” Growing up, there were a multitude of pets, representing various species, under foot at all times. Mom was a 6th grade art teacher who encouraged her children to use one wall in their room to express themselves artistically. Tom was not all that interested in art, so he tacked up various posters instead. Housekeeping was of the “one of these days” variety, and Tom literally never saw the need for it anywhere. It wasn't part of his identity.

As you may have guessed, Tom and Jenny met in college, fell in love, had tons of fun with all their friends, and moved into their own apartment right after graduation.

The radical difference in the way they were raised, and what they would therefore value, had not become very apparent till now. Jenny believed that Tom's indifference to clothing was due to intellectual preoccupation, and that he really didn't look that much different from their friends. The mess in his room she had blamed on the other two occupants.

Jenny took to their new apartment like a duck to water. She would make it a real home, where family and friends would feel welcome. (And yes, be a little impressed, too.) Decorating was so much fun, and when she talked to Tom about the things she thought they should get, his answer predictably was always, "Whatever you want, babe."

In the beginning, Tom's general messiness - clothes, socks, dirty dishes everywhere - annoyed her only a little. She loved him, he was just a little absent-minded, he hadn't adjusted from dorm life yet, that's all. Her repeated requests for some changes, though always agreed to, never came to fruition. Then came the talks with tears, and Tom since loved his Jenny he promised most earnestly to do better. In fact, he was clueless as to what the big deal was.

Jenny, on the other hand, firmly believed that cleanliness and order showed good character. Once, when her mother arrived just as she was coming home from work, she felt a twinge in her stomach as she turned the key. Tom had worked from home that afternoon and was on his way to the gym. Taking in the mess he had made with one sweep of her eyes, Mom's only words were, "Oh, Jenny!" It hurt so much to know what her mother must think of her now.

Jenny and Tom's love eroded further, when he surprised her with two stray kittens and a week later brought home a ragged little puppy that he had purchased in the Super-Market parking lot. Tom fed and played with the animals and gave them all of his free time, but, as expected, cleaning up after them fell to Jenny.

They broke up when the talks turned into shouting matches. Jenny thought that Tom was just a selfish lazy slob, and Tom thought Jenny was a bossy bitch who had to have all things her way.

They were both wrong, of course. With some maturity and reflection, and understanding why they saw things so differently, they might have come to see that they hadn't taken adversarial positions to annoy each other, but that each of them were good people with vastly different upbringings. With an open mind, they might have come to realize the gifts they could have brought to each other.

Jenny had learned to love those kittens and the puppy Tom brought home. They had laughed together many times over their antics, and she loved to see the tenderness in Toms face when he played with them. Relaxing on the housekeeping might have grown easier with a little more time. Jenny might also have had a different reaction to her mother's criticism, having realized that there was so much more to her than the mess around her.

Tom may have come see that friends and family felt more comfortable and relaxed when the couch and chairs weren't covered with whatever he had left there. He may have noticed how nice it was, when getting ready for work, to find his clothes right in front of him, hanging wrinkle free in the closet instead of the usual hunt for something decent to wear, somewhere in the house. Oh, and no small thing for the absent-minded, is being able to find one's keys, wallet and phone all in the same place each and every morning.

My point in telling their story is to give a clear picture of how strongly our upbringing shapes who we are, and our point of view on how things MUST be done.

As mature adults, it is very helpful to understand that another's opinion or methods is a great part of their personal identity, and outright criticism and hostility only creates more anger. It is very threatening to have one's identity questioned.

It will help you tremendously to keep this in mind, not only with partners but with co-workers as well.  Listen to what they have to offer that is different from your own ideas. If they too have adopted an open-minded attitude, as you have now, the sky is the limit on future success! Replacing an old idea with a new and better one opens the mind for growth, and for becoming so much more than who you were when you left home! So, listen. How else do we learn?

1 comment:

  1. Great story! It works the same way across cultures. After all, we are all humans and work the same way.

    I wonder at what point there is a limit? If Jenny is open minded and Tom is not - then you have to talk! Talking about problems always helps.