My last post about Facebook ruining relationships (or not) got linked to about a million times but didn’t generate that much discussion. My guess is I was so long winded people either never finished it or were just too exhausted by the time did to add anything to it. That’s fine, and I’ll try and be more concise in the future. Maybe. One comment that did come in struck a chord with me and rather than follow up there I thought it deserved it’s own post. Commenter Robert K got me thinking when he said:

I once misheard a lyric by the group Stereolab. What I thought I heard was “Responsible for what I say, responsible for what I heard”, which I found incredibly illuminating. Wow. I am responsible for what I hear. Ironically, I heard the lyric wrong. The last word in the lyric is actually “hush”, not “heard”. In this case, I’m proud to take responsibility for that interpretation. But to your point, so often I forget that I am responsible for feeling annoyed with what others say or write, and it’s up to me to control my behavior, not theirs.

I’m so relieved to see someone else say this because it’s honestly something I think all the time. I often find myself in situations where people misinterpret something I’ve said and I have a negative reaction to it. I have to find a way to delicately explain that I meant something else entirely, something which probably wouldn’t elicit such a reaction. Sometimes this is because I just do a bad job explaining what I’m trying to say and sometimes it’s because people have a preconceived notion of my standpoint before I’ve said anything. It happens with business associates, friends and family. In any case it’s annoying and frustrating. How do you tell someone nicely “you are upset about something you made up in your own head” or worst “don’t get all excited just yet, you misunderstood what I was saying.”

It’s not that easy, trust me.

But this goes both ways- I learned a long time ago that interpretation was a powerful tool. Both in how others interpret you, and how you interpret others. It’s hard to control how others interpret you (hence the previous paragraph) but realizing you are in control of your own interpretations can make a huge difference in your life. This is all about trying to decode intent, but in the same way beauty is in the eye of the beholder, intent can and is often decided by the recipient. While it’s true that if you hurt someones feelings, even if you weren’t intending to, their feelings are still hurt. It’s also true that when someone is trying to hurt your feelings, simply readjusting their intent (in your own head) can soften the blow considerably. If someone tells you that “you suck” that could mean they have taken a careful look at you and found you to be sub par, and this might hurt your feelings. Or it could mean that this person just has incredibly low self esteem and the only way they can feel better about themselves is to try and push someone else down, this might make you snicker at how much they themselves suck. Not what they intended, but arguably a better interpretation, from your standpoint at least.

I think a lot of this boils down to, as Robert put it, control our own behavior. As as society we reinforce the idea that there is always someone else to blame when someone does something wrong. I don’t like to give anyone else that much power over me. If someone else upsets me, it’s because I let them upset me. If I upset someone, it’s because they are letting me do it. This is passive for most people, but when you realize it and learn that it can be an active choice then more often then not when faced with “do I want to let this person or situation upset me” the answer ends up being “no.”