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Relationships • Compatibility

Why We Must Explain Our Own Needs

One of the finest things about being a baby is that our minds can be read by others. Without us needing to say anything, people around us will have a guess at determining what we intend — and, typically, they’ll get it right. They’ll correctly surmise that we are craving some milk or that the sun is shining in our eyes, that it’s time for a snooze or that we want to jiggle the keys again.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

This may be highly gratifying and important to us in infancy, but it can set up dangerous expectations for the rest of our lives. It can breed in us the sense that anyone — especially anyone who claims to care about us — should be able to determine our deepest aspirations and wishes without us needing to say very much. We can stay silent; they will mindread.

This explains a widespread tendency to assume that others must know what we mean and want without us having actually told them anything clearly. We assume that our lover must know what we’re upset about, that our friends should realise where our sensitivities lie and that our colleagues must intuitively grasp how we want things done in presentations.

Furthermore, we assume that if they don’t, then it must be a sign that they are being wicked, deliberately obtuse or stupid — and we are therefore justified in falling into a sulk, that curious pattern of behaviour whereby we punish people for having committed offences whose precise nature we refuse to reveal to them.

But in all this, we have, somewhere along the path of our development, forgotten the fundamental importance of teaching. Teaching isn’t a distinctive profession focused on imparting knowledge about science and the humanities to the under 18s. It’s a skill that we must put into practice every day of our lives — and the subject we must laboriously and patiently become experts in and deliver ‘lessons’ on is called ‘Ourselves’: what we like, what we’re scared of, what we’re hopeful about, what we want from the world and how we look for things to be formatted… 

Babies, for all their intelligence and charm, only care about a handful of things; an average adult has thousands of very set ideas on all manner of topics, from the right way to govern a country to the right way to shut the fridge door. We should strive to deliver a few ‘seminars’ on our views before allowing ourselves to grow resentful and sullen.

Yet how understandable — in a sense — if we should fail so badly in our teaching duties. We’re not necessarily being lazy or unkind. It’s merely unbelievable that strangers would actually require us to talk them through yet another chapter of the dense instruction manual of our deep selves. We never had to bother with all that in the early years. We may be more nostalgic for our infancy than we might have dared to imagine.

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