Strings of thoughts are partying loudly in the mind of the listener. Not that the thoughts aren’t tired of excessive partying. However, they are so used to their chaotic lifestyle that despite their best efforts, they can hardly practice stillness or focus on an external voice. Every thought tries its best to maintain its distinctiveness amid the temptation to be a part of the crowd, but the force of the crowd is too powerful to resist. The listener has no capacity left to listen.
Those words, though heard, crave for a listener.
In a turn of events, the roles change. The Listener becomes the Speaker; the Speaker becomes the Listener. Both are tired of each other’s inability to listen.
The Listener texts the Speaker. We need to talk, Honey.
Yes, Baby. We need to talk. Prompt comes the reply.
In the evening, after work, as the sky dusk, they meet at Sunshine Cafe, where they went for their first date.
The Listener clears his voice. This isn’t working. I always try to empathize with you. But…
Is that so? Empathy isn’t enough, Baby. You may understand how I feel but do you listen when you listen? The Speaker husks.
But… you never let me complete my line. Retorts the Listener. Anyway, your words sound like a circular logic to me. Why can’t you keep things simple?
Because you don’t let me. Do you remember how you responded last night when I put my bottle on the table and asked you if you could get me some water? You said No! NO?!
Did I? An apologetic Listener lowers his voice.
You assumed that I had asked you whether you would like to have some water. You are SO conditioned by your assumptions. The Speaker’s face contorts with sadness.
Yes. I am sorry. A little embarrassed, the Listener continues. Tell me how do I make reparations, Honey. You are the neuroscientist.
This is not an Oxford debate. You certainly aren’t Shashi Tharoor. You don’t need to make reparations. The Speaker sounds serious.
I am trying to make things work. Help me understand.
Okay. Okay. If you must know, Baby, the reactive part of our brain frequently makes associations based on our expectations and how we are used to reading and interpreting social situations, thereby reducing our ability to decode the obvious. Rarely do we use our thinking brain in such situations. The Speaker pauses, waiting for a nod of approval. Do you get me?
Go on. This is interesting.
The Speaker’s eyes spark, as he leans forward, putting the cup of coffee on the left of the table. You see, our ability to pay attention, to listen is impacted by an array of distractions abound—within and without us. The urgency of attending distractions is too compelling to leave any room for slowing down.
Gotcha, Honey! This is why, I guess, we end up making wrong assumptions about people…
The Speaker completes the line. And, their behaviors, their intentions. Blah! Blah!
We do so without knowing or understanding the background or the context. This pattern blocks our empathy, and, in turn, our ability to make meaningful connections. Am I correct?
The Listener becomes a little emotional. Maybe, I am not as empathetic as I think of myself. Tell me what I need to do to win your heart again. Whatever you want, I will do it.
Now, don’t get so worked up! It is actually pretty simple. In the larger scheme of human relationships—with known and unknown people—-we develop better camaraderie when we are capable of doubting our negative assumptions, which stem from the accumulated biases, prejudices of our experiences, and confirming our good assumptions about people. To reach there, we need our ears to listen and our mouth to shut up, our judgment suspended. The positive assumptions become a self-fulfilling prophecy; they serve everyone well. You see. It is simple. The Speaker smiles.
I don’t really understand this part. Why do I need to start with positive assumptions? That would be giving the bad people a license to harm me.
You are a good person, Baby. This is why I love you so much. The Speaker whispers and continues in a deep voice. You
see, people, barring rare exceptions, are mostly good. If you stop using social media and watching news, you will see that the world is a much better place than what they make us believe it to be. You will see the good in people. When we project our genuinely positive assumptions on others, we earn not only their commitment but also great results. It is a win-win situation. And, that smile in the corner of your eyes! Irresistible!
The Listener blushes. I am lucky to have you in my life, Honey. Though I am not qualified enough to comment on this, but I think that that capacity to make healthy, not unreasonably positive, assumptions require a little bit of both the reactive and thinking parts of our brain. In defense of the reactive brain, it draws from raw emotions, the Freudian ID, the impulses. They are the eyes that see serendipity, creativity and hear the messages of nature. Don’t you think so?
Freudian ID! Oh My God! You are on fire. Are you reading my books secretly? Grins the Speaker.
The Listener smiles. I don’t reveal my secrets.
I bet you don’t. I have one request.
Anything for you. Just say it.
Baby, can you put that little, proud empathy of yours into motion? Like, some real action? Maybe, you can try to be a little compassionate towards yourself? Self-compassionate? You are taking care of the house, the kids, our parents. It is a lot of hard work. That might save our relationship too.
Done. Done. And, done. He holds his hands and kisses him.