Sunday, March 22, 2009

Is it important?

We are all unique, special and amazing people. We have our own thoughts. We do the things we do for our own reasons. Even being together in one group does not mean we do the things we do for the same reasons. We all have our beliefs about what is important. These beliefs can really differ between people and can fuel discomfort, irritation, conflicts, misunderstanding and unhappiness.

A friend of mine wanted to go to a Chinese restaurant with my husband, me, him and another dear friend. We were visiting New York and he said he knew some great places to go. I told him that I was not sure about this because I do not respond well to MSG and lots of Chinese restaurants seem to use it. Not to be daunted, he immediately jumped on the phone and started calling these Chinese restaurants. After a couple of phone calls, he found this Dim Sum place where they told him that no MSG was added to their food. Great! So we walked the busy streets of Manhattan to this restaurant. When we arrived it was packed from top to bottom; everything smelled amazing and the food looked great.

We ordered some of the most wonderful foods. The spinach dumplings were to die for. The Chinese broccoli was crisp and perfect tasting. The noodles were made from a special bean. Everything tasted unique and wonderful. It was a great time with good food and wonderful company.

That night, I didn't feel well at all. I started to have my classic response to MSG: first I got very restless. Every sound changed to loud noise. I had to go to the bathroom every twenty to thirty minutes. My intestines started to hurt. I felt like my heart was racing while it wasn't. I felt like sleeping, but lying down, I felt so uncomfortable that I couldn't sleep. I didn't want loud noises and lights and people, but I did want distraction from quietness and rest that made it so clear I didn't feel well.

So how does this tie in with the "is it important"? My friend called the restaurant because he believed it was important for me to go a place where MSG was not served. We believed that his question and the answer that the restaurant gave helped us discern clearly where we could eat.

However, we didn't realize that the person who answered the phone might have different beliefs about the importance or implications of the question and that he would give an answer from that belief system. He might have decided that a small amount of MSG was not important to talk about. He might have decided that the food was really wonderful, and that's all that matters. He might simply not have known the answer, and decided that knowing wasn't that important. For whatever reason, he had a different assessment of the importance of answering the question accurately than I did.

Based on the results of my experience, I could easily go to unhappiness about the restaurant and their service. I could complain about it for the rest of the day telling everyone I meet about my MSG experience. I could call the restaurant and complain to the manager. I could write a letter. I could set up protests. But, I don't think it's that important.

Still I did learn something from my MSG experience that I can make wonderful for myself. What did I learn? First, when answering questions, we often change or color our answers based on what we think is important for the other person to know. These changes and colorings are not really based on what the other person thinks is important, they're based on what we think is important. Therefore, if I want to get an answer that will be useful for me, it's important for me to effectively communicate to the other person what is important to me and why I'm asking the question. I want to do this in a way that is clearly understood by the other so no misunderstandings arise.

On the flipside, if I'm answering a question, before I answer, it might be useful for me also to better understand why the question is being asked..

Questions to you: What was the last time you asked a question and received an answer that didn't really address what you asked? When was the last time you answered a question and missed the point of the questioner? In each case, what happened afterwards? How did you respond to them? What did you learn?

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