Monthly Archives: October, 2014

What We Want, by J.D. Willetts, Ph.D.

The Rolling Stones remind us that “you can’t always get what you want.” I certainly agree with this assertion, but it obscures the fact that we often do get what we want. In part because we have a full-time filter that zeros in on what we want and screens out what we do not want. My wife can tell you which flowers are in bloom and where you will find them while driving around, but she never sees deer in the fields that contain all those flowers. I see deer almost every day and don’t realize that anything is in bloom…until she points it out. She loves flowers. I love meat. We see what we want and filter the rest. This principle runs to all areas of our lives and functions without our conscious intervention.

For example, we can go to a party and meet several new people (an apt picture of hell, in my opinion). Afterwards she can ask me, “Did you meet Mary?” “Who is Mary?” “You know. She had on the really pretty blue dress.” “Nope.” “It had delicate lace all around the edges, and her shoes matched it perfectly.” “Sorry. Not ringing any bells.” [Heavy sigh] “She told that bawdy story!” “Oh yeah. I remember her.” While I am sure you have never had such a conversation with your spouse, (and I don’t recommend you do), it highlights that we all focus on different facets of life – those that appeal to us. This helps us to simplify life so we don’t have to process everything equally, but it also limits us.

Our beliefs become supported by almost everything we see, because our filter guarantees it. If you believe in God, you find evidence of Him everywhere. If you don’t believe in God, you find evidence of His absence everywhere. Both sides ignore troublesome data in order to get what you want. If you believe your wife has no respect for you, then you will find disrespect in virtually everything she does – body language, tone of voice, decisions and word choices. You will feel the disrespect whether it exists or not. If you believe your husband is selfish, then all of his words and actions will be put through that filter and confirm your belief of his narcissistic tendencies.

Our best chance of breaking the stranglehold of pre-conceived conclusions is to be the “devil’s advocate.” An expert researcher knows that a good study is designed to disprove a hypothesis (i.e., belief), not prove it. When your wife says, “Why do you do it that way?” consider that she is curious and wanting to learn rather than criticizing how you are doing it. When your husband says, “I’m going out to work in my shop,” consider that he is being considerate of your need to know what his plans are and giving you a chance for input, rather than assuming he is announcing his next selfish endeavor. I’m not saying that your opposite viewpoint will always be correct, but it will give the benefit of the doubt and in the long run is likely to give you what you really want. The key is to want a loving relationship more than you want to be right.

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