Why Do We Find It So Hard To Understand Each Other?


Years ago, a smarty pulled a trick on me. In the mornings, she would promise to come to my room. Before sunset, while the keyboards still jingled and rattled. Beaming, I always whispered, “Why, oh, how nice of you!” But, after a while, she started defaulting on her promises.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

I waited and waited and waited till it was too dark. The reasons she gave me were always along these lines, “This morning, a coconut fell on my grandmother’s head. You know, I love her more than anyone on earth. Weeping. Sob. Sob.”  Soon, suspicion began to dawn on my nerdy mind. The underlying assumption, of course, was, “Now that you have seen what it is like, if you want more of this, you must put me permanently there.” I could never get my head around this line of reasoning. But, this didn’t have any effect on me for the same reason rain does not have a big effect on the nerd who always reads in the school library.

I, the scholar and gentleman, still courted her, tolerating her antics with Buddha-like patience. I wasn’t big on sleeping with her. So, she assumed that I wanted to make her my “wife”. Now, I am being blatant at the risk of sounding honest. It is very cruel, to be honest.

She was pretty effing stupid, but fun to talk to. Six years into journalism, she couldn’t write a decent sentence. While paying restaurant bills, she could never do the Math. But, when she mimicked the announcement in the Delhi Metro on phone, I could never tell whether it was real. When she did things, I did not find out until years later. She did not even have the brains to know that she was doing things. In her eyes, she was always Mother Teresa. Maudlin visitor to orphanages and madhouses, dance tutor of underprivileged children, glib romancer of several men, sentimentalist who never paid her bills. If only the world appreciated her goodness. Leveraging strategic naiveté, she carved out a small place for herself in the world. But, intellectually and evolutionarily, she was a blank-cartridge.

When she subtly hinted that I clinch the deal, she thought I was just going to have to bite the bullet. But, this was a language I did not understand. I wasn’t choosing mangoes from the local market. I believe in “true love”. Perhaps this is asking too much, but for love to develop from within, I think people must be honest, fair and kind. But, this is my minor premise. My major premise is that I am Nobel Prize material. Marrying me is like investing in convertible bonds. I said that if I am ever going to clinch the deal, it wouldn’t be with her, but with someone cuter and smarter. That was when things got messy.

What was I after? This was a mystery to her. But, this wasn’t much of a puzzle for me. I was working on a long novel that gave me blinding headaches. I hardly did anything else, and never traveled beyond the nearby market. “But, a social nerd is a happy nerd.” In any case, a relationship is tentative till “true love” develops from within after hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of conversation. I want a fairy tale romance, not a cool, calculated, structured deal. I never understood why this wasn’t obvious. I never understood why conversations with me wasn’t a pure consumption good for her. The incomprehension was mutual.

If a man takes a girl to a bar, expecting her to sleep with him because he paid the bills, no sane girl would find this reasonable. That isn’t fair. Men feel quite the same way. It never occur to such types that there must be something really wrong with them. But, they always felt that there must be something really wrong with me.

This was a recurring pattern throughout my life. When I was a child, my parents had a really hard time. I am a picky eater. I am supremely indifferent to much of what people love to eat. My parents packed fruits for lunch, but teachers felt they knew better and insisted that I bring rice for lunch. I dumped much of it in the waste basket. I loathed the texture of curries. I refused to eat for much of my childhood and teens. They felt sorry for me. I felt sorry for them. Everyone felt that I was being difficult. But, I knew I deserved much better.

Why do we find it so hard to understand each other? The reason is that we underestimate how differently we experience the world. “Niceness” was as important to me as “making idiots of others” was to her. Hustling me against my best interests was as important to her as conversations were to me. But, we believe there is greater alignment of expectations than there is. Introspection fails us.

I am not in a frame of mind to write a detailed analysis of introspection failure. But when I do, it wouldn’t disappoint. For now, read these articles.

Do You Know What I Don’t Know?

Generalizing From One Example

What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Knowing It?

We Are All Terrible At Understanding Each Other

1 comment

    I don't try to understand other anymore. The whole process is quite irretatating and confusing for me. There was a time when I wanted other to understand me .But now , it is the most annoying part for me .

    Urmimala Das | 2 months ago

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