“You sir, are drunk,” starts the famous exchange. “And you madam, are ugly,” came the reply. Winston Churchill caps off his riposte with the observation: “But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.” Ahh the pleasure of having the last word. The last diabolically perfect word, understood by all involved. Less satisfying is the feeling of being misunderstood. No how many times I am metaphorically snapped on the nose like a bad puppy I literally never feel good about it. As a writer and a teacher I value clarity. I work hard at my sharp, crisp definition. I wish to be clear. The uncomfortable sensation of being gamely misinterpreted by a client surprises/disappoints/annoys whenever it unfortunately occurs.
For example? In year one of teaching my yoga student misunderstands my meaning of the pronoun “you.” Each time I ask “But how do you do a sun salute?” I mean “you comma ‘Letitia'” i.e. her personally. Why? Because L repeatedly claims she performs sun salutes daily – but she ain’t done one for me. From what I observe she falls twice, risking a broken nose with each fall, while standing in Tadasana. (And this lady’s gonna show me a sun salute?) I can’t hardly wait to see how. What is she defining as a sun salute? Hence my question, “How do you, Letitia, do a sun salute?”
Three tries, three strikes. Three times, in a row, she interprets my query to mean “How does ‘one’ do a sun salute?” Or perhaps she thinks I am asking, “How is a sun salute performed?” Or maybe she thinks I want to know “What is this thing you speak of, called a sun salute?” My ignorance frustrates her. Letitia helpfully offers to loan me a Power Yoga dvd. When I tell her I (Kumari) do know how to do a sun salute, what I’d like to know is how she does one – Letitia repeats herself with decreased happiness in her voice. She is increasingly frustrated/annoyed/disappointed with my question. By the third time I ask we reach impasse. She fires me. Oops. From her point of view I’m incapable of teaching her a sun salute, and what’s worse, I won’t accept her kind offer of help. grrrr.
I have to admit that exchange haunts me. I mean she wants to learn yoga and I want to teach so why are we locked into adversarial positions? Merely due to our inability to communicate. If only I could have encapsulated my feelings as succinctly as Winston Churchill’s frosty retort. Alas, I have not even l’esprit d’espalier. Phooey. If she’d only answered my question (How do you do a sun salute?) We might have forged ahead. From her perspective if I’d executed a sun salute before her as obligingly as her home dvd I would have satisfied her idea of proper instruction. Yup. That’s what she believes.
My soul rebuffs the evolution of teaching. In the 1970s when I learn yoga, we perform asana for the teacher to examine. In the 20teens, the teacher performs asana for the students to copy. I refuse to adjust to the paradigm shift, for good reason. People don’t appear to learn by mimicry. At best, they imitate all they can see. The automaton effort leaves the average practitioner unable to create a self-led practice. This strikes me as the anathema of yoga. How will one create from a solely other-led practice, focus, meditation, self-awareness, proprioception? For the record most people don’t. This is a great disservice to people who turn to yoga for help with ADD, ADHD, addiction, anxiety and depression.
The pervasive use of electronics only heightens the issue. At least with telephonic communication I have voice inflection to cue me. With straight text, not so much. Especially text devoid of emoticon. Grumble if you must, but emoticon for me function as a Japanese shorthand – one character, a single smiley face with sunglasses is less keystrokes than writing “it’s cool.” Absent emoticon, devoid of voice inflection, with nary a facial cue – what am I to make of a single word text, “Okay” ? For the record I took it at face value.
As I went through my day, commuting to Bakersfield. Waiting at the Honda Service Center. Receiving and passing on information from the list agent to my real estate client I fail to notice my client’s strained silence. At 11am when my colleague from another brokerage calls me I’m completely caught off guard. “Win” asks me why my client is calling him, complaining that I “act like a simple phone call is too much to ask. . . ” ?????????? I have no idea I’ve even offended. I explain to Win, that after receiving a text at 5:14am, I replied by text that I could call back at 7am. My client wrote “Okay” but more accurately he wrote “Okaaayyy.”
In hindsight I realize this is his way of being sarcastic. No wonder he didn’t pick up when I return his call at 6:52 am outside the Honda Service Center. Win suggests I call my client, which I do, to no avail. It’s to late to mend fences. No text, no email, no further conversation ensues. Wow. After showing him nine houses and writing an offer, the relationship is over. Well the obvious fact is I don’t need clients who call at 5:14am expecting to chat. On the days I don’t have Honda service appointments I’m not even awake until after 7am. I don’t need him any more than I need a yoga student who falls on her face, risks breaking her nose – rather than answering my question. So why, why-oh-why, one wonders, does the uncomfortable feeling set in?
If you’ve ever had children or been married you may experience this troubling issue, this pesky problem of “not willing to listen.” Psychologically speaking my peeps rejections would have sat better if the rejections were mutual, based on shared perceptions. We ought to have been able to shake hands when parting. But like the Egyptian Judo contender sent home from the 2016 summer Olympics, my clients refuse to play nice. My problem, my unfinished feeling, is mine alone. But who amongst us hasn’t experienced the rough edges of being torn off and tossed? Isn’t this why we fight to have the last word?
Wishing to be understood is human nature. That’s what impels us to fashion language, idiom, synonyms (words that are similar but a vague shade distinctive). . . slang, emoticons and articulation. Endeavor to recover basic human nature, don’t flee from it. Don’t decide that’s just yer ego, and devalue the whole she-bang. Relationship lives in understanding, in common agreement. Here’s a fine paradox for you: even when I disagree with a person I prefer we have a shared perception of what the disagreement is. My point is, and I do have one, is that discomfort is a normal, natural, I daresay healthy response to being misunderstood. Allowing myself the displeasure of experiencing my discomfort is allowing myself to be more human, less insane, less harried, less worried in a very busy world.
Now y’all play nice