Two women were having a loud conversation, one which everyone
in the vicinity overheard. Their voices were passionate; their convictions
firm. The political candidate under discussion was an arrogant, self-serving
liar. How could anyone possibly support him?
There was only one glitch. Both women were so eager to
express their opinion that they hadn’t listened very well to the other. Each of
them was sure that her friend was validating her own ideas. On the other hand,
we eavesdroppers had caught the opening sentence of both diatribes which the
conversationalists had missed. The women were supporting opposing candidates.
Everything good each woman said about her own candidate and negative she said
about the other one’s, was being turned around by her friend as proof that her
intelligent, articulate companion shared her own point of view.
Here is another instance of the same syndrome. A
psychologist was giving on air marriage advice to prospective husbands. She
spoke of how her husband buys her greeting cards once or twice a week, leaving
them on her pillow or tucking them into her computer case. Sometimes the cards are
funny, other times sentimental, but she treasures them as evidence of a loving
spouse. Her marriage advice? Young grooms should learn from her husband and shower
their own wives with cards.
We all tend to assume that others, particularly people who
seem similar to us, think as we do. The radio psychologist missed expressing a
valid and important point because her vision narrowed to only her own preferences.
New husbands (and veteran ones) should recognize that most wives do cherish
tokens of affection. But imagine a couple who are having trouble getting on the
same financial page, where the wife is concerned that her husband spends money
carelessly. His spending a few dollars on a greeting card is likely to be met
with annoyance rather than gratitude. Even if money isn’t an issue, maybe one
wife has a weakness for cashews or ice cream or flowers. She may tell herself
that getting a card is nice, but since it is something she doesn’t particularly
care about, the repeated action comes across as impersonal proof that her
husband isn’t taking the time to really know her.
As for my political debaters, neither of them actually said
anything of value to the other. Had a policy issue or debatable fact been
introduced, they both would have quickly realized that they supported opposing
sides. The ad hominem attacks on one man and empty praise for the other didn’t
lead to further understanding or a broadening of vision.
As a disinterested party to both the political conversation
and the radio show, I found these two incidents amusing. At the same time, they
made me uncomfortable. I have an uneasy feeling that while it is easy to
recognize that type of behavior in others, it is much harder for me to
recognize it in myself.