January 13, 2014 by Austin McNair
Can you remember a time when you walked in on someone who was halfway through an exciting movie? It is an awkward moment for you. While they are on the edge of their seat, fully gripped by the dense plot, character motives, and the enticing conflict, you stand in the dark, totally unenlightened and unaware of the story unfolding.
I experience this phenomenon every Sunday night when my wife watches Downton Abbey. Even if I try to sit down and watch it with her, there seem to be five-hundred unrelated characters, and the conflict comes off as silliness to me. Characters are emotional, tensions are high, and I have no idea why these things are happening. Yet, Lillian hangs on every scene, plot point, and sentence that occurs like it’s her duty. We are two people watching the same thing, but we are in two different places.
We tend to feel a similar confusion when we enter a new relationship with someone. Like the person fixated on movie, we walk into someone else’s story and begin to try to understand them. Up until now, we have been out of the picture. We have missed the plot points and character development. We do not know about the heartbreak and desires of the person.
So what do we do?
One response is to ask a series questions to get caught up on the action. And while these questions may come from a place of genuine curiosity, they could be coming at a bad time and annoy the person we are asking. We don’t know what scene of the movie is happening. Likewise we do not know what stage of life someone is in right now. If it is the wrong moment, we may be surprised to find a negative response to our untimely questioning.
The second response is to make light of or mock what is going on in front of us. Occasionally, to the displeasure of my wife, I will walk into the room and begin to interject my own predictions, interpretations, and satire into the plot of the movie she is watching. This is an aggressive and harmful practice though. It is easy to do because I am not involved in the plot. My perspective is short sighted and I have not committed anything to learning about the story. Again, we can do this with people.
Without a level of sensitivity, both situations can become a form of judging others. The questioning method can be sincere, but often we do not receive the best responses from people when they are in the middle of some serious conflict. If our response to this negativity is to immediately label that person as a jerk, without being patient enough to wait for a fuller perspective, then we are judging them from a small sample size. Also, when we notice someone’s conflict and decide to make a joke out of it, we are deciding that what seems insignificant to us doesn’t really matter to them either. That is also a form of judging others.
In both cases we would do well to exhibit patience, openness, and love. If you want to understand the plot of someone’s story, then you are going to have to give them more than a few moments of your time. The next time you walk in on someone’s story, approach the situation with a sensitive perspective that looks beyond the present moment. They may thank you for it down the road.