Don’t get po’d at your boyfriend or girlfriend….until you read this.

Don’t get po’d at your boyfriend or girlfriend….until you read this.

When I was at the University of Colorado Boulder I was studying Psychology (before I switched to Advertising at UT Austin).  My professor staged a test in which an unknown individual entered the classroom, grabbed the teacher’s briefcase and ran out.  The students were asked to describe the culprit and we ended up with as many descriptions as students.  The point being that what we thought we saw wasn’t necessarily what happened.

When we see…..we are exposed to a scene or an image….and in order to make sense of it, our brain retrieves stored images from our memory to try to categorize or match up what we’ve seen with what we have in storage (or in our memory).  At best we are simulating a picture based on our own memories or our own “frames of reference”.

FRAME OF REFERENCE is really important because it’s a critical aspect of getting along with others and enjoying your life.  Your frame of reference is made up of everything you know – all your memories, the way you have experienced things, the way your parents and associates taught you to communicate, the things you and your loved ones say to each other….essentially your frame of reference is the lens through which you see the world.  The reason it is important is because it colors your reality.

Years ago I was dating a guy from Venezuela… day IN A TOTALLY joking way I said to him “Fuck You”.  He freaked out and said to me “In my family if someone says “fuck you” that’s it…that’s the end of the relationship.  It’s all over.”  I told him that on the contrary, in my family, it didn’t mean that….it just was a way of jibing someone or yanking their chain and when said in my family – without explanation – the people hearing it would know NOT to freak out.  They’d know what I meant because they know me.  They’d know at the very least that if I said that to them, it could only mean one of two things:

1) it could mean that I’m seriously mad and hurling a really awful insult at them or

2) it could mean that I’m joking and that i’m expressing my light hearted dissatisfaction to whatever it is they just did or said.

This is important…..since the person i’m speaking to knows me – they don’t have to ask me what I mean.  They already know what I mean because they know me and they grew up in the same environment as I did and they use that phrase in the same way.  So no one gets pissed off…..they just know that they know that I didn’t mean anything particularly bad by it.  It’s important when you are interacting with other people that you try to see things from their perspective because you might just discover that not everyone else in the world is exactly like you.  And that is fine – that’s great in fact.  God forbid we’d all be exactly the same, right?

So back to the Venezuelan guy, in an effort to diffuse the rapidly escalating vibe in the room I asked him – “what’s more important when I say something” a) what you thought I meant by it or b) what I really meant by it?

Of course it’s more important what I say that I meant by it and IF I TELL YOU THAT I DIDN’T MEAN ANYTHING NEGATIVE BY SAYING IT THEN YOU, if you’re my friend and you love and know me, are duty bound to accept that.  If not your essentially calling me a liar and if that’s what you think – why are you my friend in the first place?

This is only important because we all see the world from our own perspectives….and so we judge what we see and what other people say by what we would say in those same situations.  But that’s a mistake.  Of course we have to refer to our own frame of reference to understand anything in the world, but to prevent huge arguments & misunderstandings, don’t stop there.  Ask yourself if this person’s background is identical to yours and if it’s not then be a little more flexible about how you interpret the world.  You’ll get along wit people much better that way and perhaps you’ll find a new way to look at the world?

OK so the point of all that is that we have to be careful not to cram our frame of reference, or what we’d do in a given situation, down someone else’s throat.  This is especially important in a relationship.  If your lover tells you they meant x instead of y, then you have to believe them because who knows better than the person who said it in the first place?

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