“Don’t waste your time with explanations. People only hear what they want to hear.” ~Paulo Coelho
As a father, this rings true to me because my children often think I said something I never said. As a human being, this rings true because too often those who have a wealth more experience in listening than my children do the same thing. I don’t think it has anything to do with faulty hearing either. It’s so obviously because we do hear what we want to hear, or more precisely we hear what we want the other person to say.
“I love you,” my first girlfriend told me, but she didn’t really say that. What she said was that she enjoyed spending time with me, that she valued our relationship. But I had spent so much time and energy on having her love me that I didn’t get the hint, that I couldn’t reconcile what she actually said with what I thought she should say.
“You’re doing a great job,” my father said once when I was working on writing my first sermon. As a preacher himself, he was uniquely positioned to say whether or not I was really doing a good job. But I misheard him. He really said I was doing as good as I could, which didn’t remotely mean the same thing. I wanted him to be proud of me so much that I re-imagined his words.
And it hurts every time, even though I always set myself up, when I find out it’s not the way I wished it would be. But until then, while I’m in the honeymoon glow of the brilliance of my own deception, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the silver lining in a cloud I didn’t realize would rip open when I least expect it. It’s also a ton of bricks landing on my head, forcing me to deal with my own inadequacies, with my own co-dependency and need for love and acceptance from others.
“I feel good when you’re around,” a friend told me a few days ago, and she honestly meant it. Of course I ran it through my mind every which way I could, searching for the hidden indelicacies that had to be there, and I came up empty. I’ve learned to listen without expectation, but only because of all the time my hopes were dashed by my inability to do just that. When she said she felt good when I was around, I knew it didn’t mean she wanted me around all the time. I knew it was a “Thank you” for being there when she needed a shoulder.
I realize now that my first girlfriend probably never loved me, that my father was probably never proud of me, that so often people don’t say what I wish they would say. But that’s okay. Because I’d rather they said what they truly meant instead of being fake, instead of leading me to think something that’s not true. And I’d rather be clear right from the start, because do I really want to hear things that aren’t true?