On Giants' Shoulders

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No Doesn't Mean You Weren't Heard

My granddaughter is only talking a little bit at this point. However, she has a very strong sense of what she'd like to be doing at any hour of the day. She tries to communicate that as best she can. It's very clear sometimes that she thinks she's not getting through to us. Sometimes she has a "melt down" in frustration when the plan she has for the next span of time isn't what the grownups choose to do. We find ourselves trying to explain that, yes, we know she wants to climb the stairs again, or that, yes, we know she doesn't want to get in her car seat, but that she is going to have to follow a different plan than the one she has in mind.

What I suspect she believes to be a break down in communication, since her needs have been pretty thoroughly met up until now, is actually not that. The big people in her life have agendas that she can't necessarily understand and those agendas may mean that she has to conform to their plans. That's not always a happy moment for a little person.

Now we do try as much as possible to allow her plenty of stair climbing, and her parents do try to avoid any more car trips than necessary (she isn't just riding around in the car so that her mommy can indulge in pleasure shopping at the mall). However, at some point the stair climbing has to stop for the day, and at some point she does have to get into the car seat to go home, or go to Mass, or even go to the store.

As kids get older and more communicative, they sometimes still have the sense that the grownups don't understand. Now it's not necessarily the words the grownups don't understand, but the depth of the need they are expressing. After all don't you need the same can-can petticoat (a total need when I was about 9) that all the other girls have? Don't you need to wear a pencil skirt when everyone else is (even if you are only 8 and pencil skirts don't really allow for playground activities)? Don't you really need an I-pod if all your friends have one? Don't you really need to wear a skimpy bikini, or hang out with your friends in questionable places? On and on it goes. Answers of practicality, expense, age appropriateness, or moral values tend to land on death ears sometimes. At that point, sometimes the only thing a parent can say is: "yes, I've heard you, yes, I do understand, but the answer is still no."

Teenagers in particular can argue that the family budget would stretch to allow for the I-pod, the cell phone, the Kindle, the new computer, the latest video game console if only the adults would give up their Dunkin Donuts coffee habit, or waste less money on gasoline, or stop buying the daily paper. However, the adults are not very apt to sacrifice their small pleasures in order to satisfy the grasping appetites of a teenager whose "needs" will doubtless be influenced in a week's time by the newest fad that everyone "must have. It isn't that the teenager isn't being heard, it's that the judgment that's being made is that the family budget won't stretch far enough to satisfy all of his whims.

As grownups we don't ever exhibit that sort of behavior, right? We don't ever throw a temper tantrum of sorts when we feel that someone isn't really hearing us because we aren't getting what we want. Well....Not exactly. We complain that the government isn't doing things our way. We complain that the bishop isn't handling things the way we think he should. We complain about the parish priest who's choices are contrary to what we think they should be. And in some cases our reaction isn't terribly far off from a toddler's temper tantrum. It may have a more adult look to it, but the emotional value is much the same.

Recently, I've watched a battle unfold in an organization. People are screaming and yelling in internet communities that they aren't being heard, they aren't being respected, they aren't getting the things they need. The leaders at the top of the organization on the other hand have rather thrown their hands up in despair because the messages they've sent downwards haven't been heard either. The resulting fiasco has been anger, hurt feelings, fear, and stomping off in a very good imitation of my three year old years ago, whose jumping up and down tantrum failed to get the desired results.

What I've realized in looking at the two ends of the spectrum, my little granddaughter and these grown ups is that the problem is that frequently we take a no answer as an indication that the other person didn't understand us. In fact, they may have understood us perfectly, but the answer may still be, "we need to do it this way for the greater good, even if it makes you unhappy." That is not an answer that a 20 month old likes to hear. It's not an answer that a 12 year old likes to hear, and it's not an answer that a grownup likes to hear. Sometimes as grownups we think that if we argue convincingly enough we'll change the course of things. Sometimes we actually manage to do that. However, sometimes we simply are not looking at the full picture any more than my granddaughter is looking at the whole picture when she's unhappy to get plunked in the car seat. Frequently we see things from our angle, and fail to see the other factors that are being considered. Sometimes we can't even see as far down the road as the people in charge, anymore than my granddaughter always understands that at the end of the car trip is something she's really going to like (an opportunity to play on a slide, a chance to play with Anders, a weekend at Grandma's house). We frequently want the end defined for us, even when that's not even totally predictable. Now sometimes, it's true, the people in leadership are being selfish, they are being corrupted by power,sometimes they've been influenced by the wrong ideas, sometimes they are being corrupted by being treated to perks. If those things are true, we may well be correct in trying to change the situation. However, we need always to be careful that we are actually judging the situation correctly. Sometimes it's simply that they aren't doing things our way. We may well have been heard loud and clear, but the answer may still be no.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home