The Problem With Being Overly Considerate

The Problem With Being Overly Considerate

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There are problems with being overly considerate of others. It can be a real source of misunderstanding. When you defer too much to someone else, they then misread you, and then communication is detrimentally hampered. Here are two examples, one old and one recent, but both ironically classic.

When I was growing up, we had a fish tank in our living room. My Mom thought my Dad liked it, so she somewhat cheerfully labored to have it clean for him. My Dad thought my Mom must like it, because she fussed over it so much, so he strove to not let the perpetual bubbling noise bother him as he tried to concentrate on his reading. Twenty-five years went by in this fashion, until in one heated moment it all came out.

“I thought you liked it,” said the one.

“I thought you liked it,” countered the other.

They realized they each were operating under erroneous assumptions, and that they were each putting up with something for the other unnecessarily. The fish tank was gone the next day and they were both happy about it, while a bit chagrined.

Chagrined is how I feel today over developments regarding my oldest daughter’s choice in colleges. It was so important to both my daughter and I to please the other in this process that we got in our own way. We inadvertently created an environment that bred misunderstanding that was based on valuing the other’s needs before our own.

Early on she expressed interest in a college I had never heard of. I was fine with that, awaiting her lead. I offered for her to visit there but she didn’t need to. She also articulated some minor doubts, so I let it float. (I worked hard at not voicing opinions, honoring her ability to sort through her choices and priorities.) She pursued other options, which we visited. But that other school was still always in the conversation, even though she seemed to be pursuing other things.

We have recently received notice of all the places where she has been accepted. This unknown school is one of them. Now that it was a serious contender, I spent about five hours on their website and I came away with a lot of enthusiasm for the place. Upon getting downwind of this, my daughter related that she had assumed I had done all that reading many months ago, and since I hadn’t shared her initial excitement, she concluded I must not have approved. I told her since she never wanted to visit, I thought she wasn’t that interested. She told me she didn’t need to visit since she had understood enough about it not to need to; she could tell from her research (just like I could later) that it was a good place for her. She needed to go to the other places we did since she wasn’t at all so clear about them. Since I hadn’t jumped on this other college’s bandwagon sooner, she thought that I must think there was something better out there for her (which I don’t now.) She valued me enough to want me pleased with her choice, so she so went looking for what I might be enthused about. I valued her so much, I tried to stay out of the way and let her take the lead, but inadvertently communicated either disinterest or judgement that I never felt, stymieing the process. We were both trying to please and defer to the other, and only misunderstanding was generated. We were both unwittingly at fault.

Like my parents, once it all unraveled, it was easily fixed. She sent off her acceptance and deposit today for the first, now acknowledged wonderful school, even though we haven’t seen it yet. (We will visit in three weeks for confirmation while we can still change our minds if we need to.) She could have decided on this school long ago and applied for early acceptance; this would have saved us considerable time and expense. And all this unnecessary loss was over miscommunication, simply because we were both trying so hard to be nice!

But like my parents the day their fish tank was removed, my daughter and I are mutually thrilled, feeling incredible relief. My prayer for her college choice was that we would have clarity, and regardless of the muddle we made of it meanwhile, I’m so grateful we now both agree that we do!

I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.

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