Everyone struggles with keeping positive attitudes functional in light of others’ silent expectations or well-meaning assumptions. If a gift that may have incurred hours of dedicated work, money saved up or some sacrifice doesn’t coincide with the receiver’s need or desire, but instead meets with silence, a sigh or negative body language, the giver will surely be disappointed, hurt or angry. They may conclude “They don’t appreciate anything I do or give,” Or “I’m through trying to please that person.”
Assuming what another prefers to wear, eat, hear, smell, read, or do often invites resistance. Once when I questioned Mom why she didn’t ever choose her warm red sweater given to her by a relative she said, “There’s no pocket for a Kleenex”. And a friend opening a gift from her cousin said, “Chartreuse! I hate that color. I’ll never wear it.” When ‘perfect’ gifts are rejected, the giver may feel defeated. But just think it over for a minute. Don’t we often say or give the things we would like to hear or receive? So, when our effort becomes a nuisance to the other, we are perplexed. Or if that costly gift in time or money isn’t being worn or used, we are likely to take it personally. Even small attentions that we would enjoy receiving or doing may give others pause. The truth is, what we would like or enjoy may actually rub another person--a different Temperament--the wrong way. Indeed, this is a tender subject.
My five siblings, their spouses and Jim and I planned a surprise 80th birthday for Mom who we agreed deserved a supreme celebration. We worked together from five different states, lining up her favorite restaurant, appropriate favors, the perfect gift, photographer for a family picture and newspaper editor for a writeup. We all arrived the night before at a local motel and went over our plans. We giggled as we walked to get ice cream treats about what if Mom would be driving by and see her children in town? We had never been together without children, so this was a fun reunion for us as well. John and Gloria, were responsible for informing Aunt Hazel, her 87-year-old sister who lived next door to be ready by a certain time and hopefully keep the secret, and were to casually suggest lunch at their favorite restaurant.
The rest of us arrived at the restaurant a couple hours early to get everything set up. Brother-in-law, Ralph, had his video camera ready. We gathered quietly around the door. Shh. The door opened and Mom and Aunt Hazel walked in, with John & Gloria behind. We said “Surprise”. Mom was overwhelmed to see the twelve of us facing her, especially Mac and Eileen just home from the service. The first words of our quiet, easily-pleased mom’s mouth when she could finally speak, were “Don’t ever do that again!” She was pleased after she caught her breath and was delighted to see all her children and spouses in one place, and amazed that Aunt Hazel had kept the secret. What we thought was a perfect gift got off to a wobbly start, but she forgave us. It would have helped had we known about Temperament and that what we planned was more than an ISFJ (Introverted, Sensing, Feeling and Structured) could comfortably embrace. We violated her Introversion (they dislike being on display) Sensing (they don’t like radical changes) and Structure (they like to know what’s going to happen--dislike surprises).
Fortunately, we can learn from inaccurate assumptions. When Mom’s 90th birthday was up-coming, I asked if she wanted to plan that party. She never wanted to celebrate herself, but she knew her kids would do something if she didn’t. She was staying with us at that time so I took notes about what she wanted. At her church with her friends on the hospitality committee serving the meal of her choice. She invited a few neighbor friends along with church friends and her local family. Mom really enjoyed our theme. Each couple and grandchildren took turns verbally expressing a favorite memory about Mom, Little Grandma, as she was called. No photographer or newspaper. She reminisced about her 90th birthday more than the 80th.
Don Miguel Ruiz in his Four Agreements book expertly identifies being presumptuous as the main culprit of emotional chaos causing belligerent attitudes and hurt feelings. The other three are: Be impeccable with your words; Don’t take anything personally and Do your best. Very helpful guidelines and worth the read. I’ll discuss those in another blog.
Someone not visiting or calling often enough may make one jealous, hurt, or have feelings of inadequacy. Visitor (s) drops in when you are knee-deep in a project or ready for a meal--mixed attitudes of imposition, even feelings of disrespect which may neutralize any surprise. Experiences like this can be avoided when you know the Temperament of the one you plan to visit, knowing rather they’d like a call ahead or a surprise. For instance, it’s almost impossible to impose on an ESFP, because they will drop anything to be with people. Structured people who are working out their plan for the day would probably like prior notice. Sensing Feeling Spontaneous (ESFP) crowd actually enjoy being interrupted because they like on-going small surprises and manageable crisis situations. They’re open for people any time of day or night.
In evaluating our own presumptive habits, we need to acknowledge that while we believe that our assumptions are true, they miss their mark many times. Presumption germinates as we imagine what actions another would appreciate. Extroverts are more likely to express that they’d like a visit or say what they would like to do or would rather not do. Introverts seem to prefer to respond to a question or just wait and see what happens. It’s always safer to inquire.
Sensing people usually do not like changes while Intuitives are more likely to welcome changes. Intuitives need to be hesitant about rushing Sensing people into accepting change. Sensing Thinkers and Feelers need time to think over the facts and figures. Another example using a story involving my Mother:
Mom never lectured us, was not demanding or bossy. She quietly did her work or completed others’ unfinished chores without complaint. Putting up with six noisy kids, nearly always without assistance from Dad or others, she was content to do what needed to be done and did not resort to guilt trips. As I’ve mentioned before she didn’t complain, criticize or apologize for what she couldn’t help. She wouldn’t even say ‘My toe hurts.” Mom never asked for anything or mentioned something given that she didn’t appreciate.
But our gentle Mom spoke her mind if asked to do something she wasn’t in favor of, like “Mom, I’d like you to have a dental checkup while you’re here.” “For what reason? I don’t need a dentist; you know I wear false teeth.” “Yes, but I also know you are having difficulty with them fitting well and I’d like to have them checked.” Getting her there was a process, involving contacting my niece who is a dental hygienist who gave me helpful guidance. We gave her plenty of time to think it over, she finally relented.
When the dentist asked, “Now, Mrs. McRoberts, what brings you here today?” She pointed at me and said “She made me come.” “She did? Well, let me have a look and she why she wanted you to come”. When the dentist inspected her dentures, which had been glued a time or two, his eyebrows went up and he said “Wow! I’ve never seen dentures this old before.” Mom was 93 and had worn dentures since she was 20 and this was probably her second set at the most. When he told her that her dentures needed to be replaced because her mouth had changed in size permitting food to get under them, she relaxed. Knowing that she was Sensing helped me to be patient in waiting for the facts from the dentist that would convince her.
Understanding how others have been designed and their style of behavior creates a respectful atmosphere, avoids our being presumptuous and guarantees healthy communication.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Eph. 4:2 (NIV) Thank you, Father, for your unconditional love. Help us be wise in what we say and do for others.