Gurney's Inn
January 24, 2007

Kiss & Tell

Honey, You Are Absolutely Right

I was listening to NPR the other day — one of the last bastions of intelligent yet entertaining programming — and heard a couple speaking about integration. The husband was Caucasian and his wife was African American. In a discussion about the school system he took a point of view against ethnic pride days because it separated the student body. She took the opposite view, and after her heart felt and eloquent defense, he simply responded, "You see why my wife is so great. She's absolutely right."

I almost ran off the road.

It had nothing to do with the content of the argument but the capitulation. Here was a black and white couple who refused to retreat into "black and white" thinking and experienced the world in its external and internal communication in shades of gray. This was so refreshing. Most of us, once we have a strong opinion, will argue our point of view to the end, vested not in hearing the other side's counterpoint but in trying to convince them we are right. This is how we end up in New Jersey because he really didn't know how to get to Brooklyn, and why after a landslide election of Democrats voted into office to change the course of the war in Iraq, there are more than 20,000 additional troops going in.

The question is: who are we willing to listen to? Or I guess, to be grammatically correct, to whom are we willing to listen?

While Democrats and Republicans are set up to be adversarial, man and wife are supposed to have chosen one another because of like interests, trust and admiration for one another. Yet, when a woman is thinking of buying a new cell phone and her husband suggests a good model which will match her limited technological skills and his calling plan, she balks only to seek out a total stranger in khakis with a nametag which reads "Vinnie," who says, "Yo, um, like the Razr phone is wayyyyy cool," and she says "I'll take it."

Our mothers and/or mates usually know us intimately, and yet when they try to direct us we often take it as criticism and balk. A therapist can say, "What I'm hearing from you is that due to past betrayals, it is very hard for you to fully integrate into a relationship and commit," and you think, "You know that really resonates." But if your mate says, "We've been going out for a year now, and I'd really like to know why you never speak about a future together," you respond, "What the **** am I, a ****ing psychic?"

How you speak to your significant other is clearly very important. You can simply point out, "There's a bit of spinach in your teeth," or you can say, "Is there any way you can possibly devour all of those greens in that damn new diet without getting them stuck all over the orifices of your face?"

Most evolved humans are interested in constructive criticism, and yet we shrink from the very words of wisdom from those who know how to guide us. Is it that we can't hear that we're flawed? Or is it that our partners aren't versed in the language of loving guidance that we can hear?

Ultimately we rely on internal mechanisms which protect us from false accusations because we know our accusers have mal intent. But sometimes we simply don't know where DUMBO is. The educational process needs to help us know how to listen as well as to speak so we can be heard. In the end there is not so much black and white as comfort in the shade — the shade of the tree of knowledge which welcomes us whether we are right or whether we can admit we're wrong.

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