Hidden Meanings and Personal Baggage

Have you ever tried to do the right thing by another person only to find out later that somehow it all backfired and that person was offended by your actions? Its an awful feeling to have your good intentions misunderstood and to wind up offending the very people you were trying to support.

Last Monday I wrote about the cultural differences in manners that can lead to this sort of misunderstanding. What one culture views as polite another may view as rude.

But culture isn’t the only  factor that can lead to misunderstanding. Perhaps a more significant factor is the internal dialogue that runs through each of our heads. We are full of assumptions, expectations, hopes, insecurities and baggage. We look at the world through a filter shaped by our experiences and beliefs, and in my experience, it is this more than anything that leads to strife.

You could never give my grandmother a compliment. If you told her you liked her dress she would be offended – because it implied that all the dresses she hadn’t been complimented on were not nice. She used to say,  “never make a personal comment” and tried to teach us that compliments were rude.

The other day one of my neighbours was upset after a conversation with a couple sitting on the steps to our building. She thought they looked  lost and wanted to know if they needed any help. They answered her very defensively – which offended her. We speculated later that it may have been because they thought she was being one of those very territorial, busy-body residents -there’s one in every building. Perhaps they believed when she said,”Are you looking for someone, do you need any help?”  she really meant “What is your business here, why are you on our property?”

I guess what I’m trying to say is:  before we get all offended or angry because we think others have been rude to us, it might be a good idea to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Rather than looking for hidden meanings, perhaps we should try to take things on face value more. The hidden meanings that we react to may well be a product of our own insecurities rather than anything intended by the other party.


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