I Misunderstand Commitments

Sometimes, when you’re walking on a hot day and trying to ignore the pain in your legs from climbing hills (you can tell I was in Austin), you get a sudden insight into how communication works and doesn’t work, and your life suddenly becomes better. Well, it happened at least once, and that was yesterday.

I was just enjoying myself not thinking about work during my one-hour break between meetings, and I started to think about how some of the people in my life announce their plans/intentions/commitments. They state them very firmly. “Things will be this way from now on.” “I will act on this plan going forward.” Things like that.

The post is about language, and I think this is cute. Photo by @NAO via Twenty20

In my little head, I interpret such statements as firm commitments. I then adjust my own expectations to go with these plans. If someone says, “I’m going to do this twice a week,” I expect that to happen twice a week. If someone says, “This is the next project I plan to do,” I get my inner expectations set that way.

This is not the other person’s problem; it’s mine. This leads to much disappointment and confusion when life happens, plans change, or the dreaded “spontaning” occurs (that’s what Lee and I call being spontaneous). I get worked up about people not keeping their commitments, or confused when I hear the twice a week thing didn’t happen starting the next week.

Javascript is inside my head. No wonder I get confused. Image by @Mehaniq via Twenty20,

My insight was that when people around me make these declarations, they are not stating a commitment, they are stating an intention. They’re not stating a definite plan, but more of a tentative plan for the moment. And that’s perfectly fine, because that’s how stating plans or intentions work for them. And besides, even people like me, who state things with all expectations that the plan will be stuck to, sometimes have to change things when circumstances change. Huh, I’d been being rather rigid in my expectations of others!

They sure do. Image by @MPstockart via Twenty20

So, now that I’ve reset my expectations, I’ve a word of advice for those of you who didn’t get this concept hammered into their heads while studying linguistics (almost everyone!).

Your internal set of meanings for words and phrases may actually NOT coincide (probably don’t coincide) exactly with other people’s.

me

Language is really, really ambiguous. That’s why we rely so hard on tone of voice, facial expression, past knowledge of the person we’re talking to, and sincere hope to communicate anything at all. We all have our own internal grammar, semantics (meanings for words), and pragmatic style.

Now you know why I only communicate with snuggles. They are universal.

So, when there are misunderstandings, which there inevitably will be, let’s not be so hard on each other. It’s a miracle that we manage to communicate at all!

Overcommitted? Me? Maybe Not!

I read a lovely article today about a woman who was overwhelmed and realized the work she was doing had nothing to do with her actual talents or things she enjoyed doing. She got therapy, pondered a while, and POOF, she’s now living on a goat farm in a yurt, perfectly happy to enjoy a quiet life.

Yurt, sweet yurt. Image by @sojourneynicole via Twenty20

I’m happy for her. As she pointed out, it’s not a character flaw to be someone who shudders at the idea of trying to “make it” and cramming as much as possible to achieve some new goal every few months or climbing the corporate ladder until you “win.” Knowing full well that most people aren’t going to “make it” or “win,” it’s probably a good idea to take comfort in more modest goals and aspirations that allow you to live a full but not overfull life.

Looking at the list of things I’m involved with lately, you’d think I am among the over-achieving group and that I am trying to “win” at something. Most organizations volunteered for? Most confusing schedule? I sure don’t look like a very good hermit.

Continue reading “Overcommitted? Me? Maybe Not!”