All too often, someone expresses a nonstandard thought (or even one that is simply incongruent with group norms), and the responses center around how well others can relate the concept to themselves. When they encounter internal resistance, they feel the need to express how the hypothetical does not agree with them.
I’m sure some of these sound familiar:
- “I don’t really believe in a god.”
- “I definitely do, my faith gives me purpose.”
- “I don’t think I want to have children.”
- “I love my kids, I couldn’t imagine life without them.”
- “I am going into Child Neurology.”
- “I could never do that, it’s so sad.”
Okay, maybe not that last one.
Why do we feel so compelled to share these thoughts? It seems especially malapropos when these interactions often begin with us asking a question, inviting the other person to reveal something about themselves. When the answer is unexpected, we feel as though we must immediately begin an unprompted justification of our own choices, perhaps even creating a hostile environment that discourages future sharing.
Despite my experience as a recipient in these conversations, of late I have been disappointed to find myself behaving similarly toward others. I too need to be periodically reminded that when someone thinks or feels differently than myself, it is not inherently a challenge. Instead of reacting with “I…”, a more appropriate response would take the form of “tell me more.”