You aren’t responsible for what anyone else hears. You are only responsible for what you say. People hear what they want to hear and will transform your words into what they’re able to understand. The psychological term is ‘cognitive dissonance’. When a thought is so challenging to your beliefs that your brain can’t process the input, your brain will change the meaning to accommodate your beliefs.
I spent a week at a retreat studying with a Buddhist monk. The experience was fascinating and I learned things that still resonate with me over 20 years later. He was open to all questions regarding the Buddhist viewpoint on any topic. One of his teachings was on treating all creatures with respect. Especially your parents. A participant asked, “ What if the parents are abusive?” The monk and his translator conferred, then she asked, “What is meant by abusive?” The participant described several types of abuse and the monk and translator conferred again. His answer: “ Parents always act in the best interest of the child and there must be something that we didn’t understand.” It felt like a collective light bulb went off in the room as we all realized that he had no frame of reference for that type of experience and couldn’t comprehend the question.
Bob and I were out celebrating our 20th anniversary. A woman, maybe in her late 20s, approached me and asked me the secret to a long relationship. She was insistent saying: “I really really want to know!” I paused for a moment to collect my thoughts and said: “Just accepting your partner exactly the way that they are.” “ You’re right!”, she said. “You can’t change them right away, you have to wait to change them.” She thanked me profusely and made a hasty exit.
My truth is that people are who they are. Whatever trait you can’t accept about them now, is not likely to change. If you want to be happy in a relationship, you have to accept them and you have to be with someone who accepts you. She was so committed to her line of thought that, before I had finished speaking, she left the conversation to protect her beliefs.
No one is immune to cognitive dissonance. I was playing Trivial Pursuit with some friends and a man answered a question. I laughed at his ridiculous response and had the next person take their turn. Later, his partner pointed out that his answer had been correct and that I hadn’t even looked at the card to check it.
The only cure for cognitive dissonance is to accept that your own viewpoint is not the only relevant viewpoint and to listen deeply. Learn to listen to understand what the other person is trying to convey, not as a jumping off point for your own opinions.
Dead people say; Let go of ego! Accept that you don’t know everything. When you respect other peoples views, you have a much better chance of them respecting yours.