Last week I was driving my 14-year-old daughter and her friend “Joan” home from school. They were chatting about different people and my daughter told Joan about a mutual friend of ours who had seen Joan’s sister. She said, “He couldn’t believe how fat your sister was!” (Joan is a very thin and tall girl). Joan replied by saying, “I know! My sister is so fat.”
I had to intervene at that point (I had previously just been listening to the banter). I said, “Joan, your sister isn’t really fat, but she is a much bigger boned girl than you are.” My daughter then jumped in to say, “Don’t expect my mom to say anything bad about anybody. In my mom’s eyes, EVERYONE is beautiful.”
We had a few laughs while I explained that not everyone is “beautiful” to me, but that beauty IS in the eye of the beholder and everyone is beautiful to someone. My daughter proceeded to tell Joan that it is “useless” to try and get me to say anything bad about anyone. Then she closed with, “And don’t tell my mom what you think about this or the next thing you know, she will be blogging about it!”
The whole incident was very eye-opening to me – mostly about how my daughter perceives my view on others. I don’t think I am as gracious and unconditional as she seems to perceive me. It also made me think of a popular song that my kids listen to on the teen radio. I don’t know the singer or the name, but this woman is singing to a boyfriend or husband about how he thinks her to be a certain way – all of it negative – “You say I am fat. You say I am a jerk. You say I am difficult.” But then she goes on to sing about another guy who thinks she is great – “He says I am charming. He says I am lovable. He thinks I am fun to be with.”
So, how can the same person be perceived so differently by two people with different viewpoints of her? Again, I come back to the point where we view the world so differently depending on the filter we use to look out at it (Secret Number One). We honestly believe that we are looking at things in a fair and objective manner but when we realize how someone else can look at the same person, or the same situation at the same moment, and walk away with an entirely different opinion, we must be filtering somehow.
Think about this for long-term relationships. We find a potential mate’s quirks “charming” and “cute” when we are courting them. Once we are in the relationship, those same quirks can be as annoying as all get-out! We find something our own children do to be aggravating, yet we see the same behavior with friends and we say, “They are just kids – no big deal.”
I don’t know that we can ever fully remove the filters, but being willing to admit they are there, and admit that we color our view of the world with them, is an important first step. Playing the role of Interested Observer is very helpful. In the car with my daughter, as much as I wanted to “defend” myself and argue that I am not always so gracious, or always so supportive, I refrained from going into lots of details about my perspective. Yes, I actually found myself wanting to tell her that I was meaner than she portrayed me to be! This is because my filter comes from having a mom who just loved everybody. People would call her “The Saint” and in my filter that’s not an entirely good thing. So hearing my daughter, but refusing to engage and put up my own defenses aggressively, allowed me to see many things going on between the two of us, as well as internal to me.
This week, try and spend some time in Interested Observer mode. See if your current perceptions about who you are and what you do are actually shared by those who know you well. We learn so much by refusing to jump in and defend, but rather just listening and watching what’s happening.