Why Is It So Easy to Miss The Point?

September 30, 2020

I had this text exchange with my Mother-in-law today and I want you to pay attention to the initial knee-jerk reply that I didn’t end up sending:

Naina (pronounced Nay-nah): [Brother-in-law] says these are yours. I’ll bring them over next time I visit. I’m assuming you have the PS2 back and I’m not hanging on to it.

My unsent reply: Not all mine, but ok lol. The GTAs and Madden 2004 could be mine, but I’ve never owned a wrestling game or an NCAA Football game. I’ll take em though, thanks!

🖐 Raise your hand if you can spot the issue here.

My mother-in-law has these games in her possession because my brother-in-law and I lent them to our father-in-law to quell some of the boredom when he was fighting cancer in the hospital 7 years ago.


The games in question 🧐

As I was writing my reply, I realized the following: my wonderful, generous, sweet, caring mother-in-law could not give less of a shit whose GD games these are. Even if they didn’t bring up painful memories about losing her husband, these dumb objects aren’t hers and she wants them out of her house.

Untruths, no matter how insignificant, have a disproportionate effect on our brains, leading us to throw all decent judgement into a furnace and argue over the pettiest of details. I have moments I regret that took only a fraction of a second to transpire, but were the result of this exact phenomenon.

When I was maybe nine or ten, I was at summer camp and at the end of the day they would announce everyone’s name. That person would then call out what free activity they wanted to do, followed by what can only be described as a scene out of a nature film. Every person would bolt like a deer sensing danger and rush towards the area of their selected activity so they could get the best bow for archery or pick out the coolest computer game to play, etc. The list was alphabetical by last name, so the Wendy Wilson’s and Zarley Zalapski’s of the world got completely hosed. With my last name beginning with the 3rd letter in the alphabet, I was living a charmed life and I usually got my pick without much contention. One day, however, my name got skipped and in a snap reaction I blurted out something unintelligible and very dramatic about my name being skipped, putting me at the center of the type of attention no one wants. I was so crushed by the fact that I got skipped, the embarrassment of making a scene didn’t even occur to me until years later. When my name was finally called, I whimperingly mumbled out my activity and took my time getting over there, knowing that whatever the good stuff was would be gone anyway.

As a child, the injustice of being skipped, a.k.a. the untruth, was so visceral that I couldn’t even wrap my head around it. For example, I couldn’t grasp that it may have been done intentionally (I’m sure it was) or, somewhat more worryingly, that everyone after me (i.e. ~89% of the group) was dealt a worse spot in line by complete chance and there wasn’t anything to even be upset about. The shame I still feel over how I reacted that day negates any chance of forgetting that moment, adding it to the voluminous list of “things I would 100% do differently if given the chance”.

This reflex is so deeply ingrained that I still have to wrestle out of its grasp over 30 years after that painfully embarrassing incident. Failing to spend the extra bit of time to understand the core of what’s being communicated often leads to a grand battle of wills, with both sides arguing over details that don’t actually matter.

Which brings me back to Naina. I’m grateful that I didn’t send that clumsy reply. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t have been that bad, but I’ll take any small win I can get. Fighting against the numerous insanities of human psychology is an uphill climb. For reference, below is the revised reply. It isn’t Shakespeare, but hopefully it irons out at least one wrinkle from her day.