What If

“I think that imagination is an important part of what makes change possible. One must be able to imagine what it is like to a woman, or a slave, if one is moved to remove artificial barriers. To remove unjust legalities.” – Ahab’s Wife or The Star Gazer

Reconciliation requires imagination.  It demands the ability to imagine the possibility that your actions will be interpreted in a way that you don’t intend, or the ability to imagine the pains and struggles your “enemy” lives and struggles with.

Ok, its personal story time.  I took a trip to Tanzania for two weeks.  (It was a pretty epic trip by the way. Check out the photographs on my facebook profile.)  This was a two-week vacation with my family that I intended as a time to not really think about the cross-cultural work relationships and the joys such cross-cultural living/work experiences bring.  But I guess I went on vacation too soon.  I forgot to actually call up a couple of people and tell them goodbye as I left.  (In reality I didn’t call anybody on the day of my departure.  My housemates knew when I left because they were there when I walked out of the house.  But everyone of significance knew the dates I would be gone from, including the offended parties.)  This is not because I am rejecting all the relationships I have here.  This is because I truly did not think it mattered to inform everyone I know here that I will be gone for two weeks.  My boss knew because he had to approve the trip in the first place.  But I like the fact that I can do what I want when I want.  Silly me.  I didn’t even consider the fact that some people expect a friendship to mean I-know-everything-about-you-all-the-time.

So when I returned on Monday, one of my friends was personally offended.  Truly.  I went to a meeting where we sat next to each other in silence for an hour—this person generally asks a lot of very detailed personal questions.  And while leaving this meeting, I was stuck a pace and a half behind said person who could not stand to walk next me.  Wow.  They are mad!  For a couple of hours, this really bothered me.

I said I was sorry…

It’s not that big of deal…

But I had to consider the possibility that it was a big deal.  What if this person thought that the exercising of my independence was actually a personal rejection?  What if my actions conveyed the idea that I don’t like that person-enough to just up and leave them?  Well, if this was the interpretation, then the reaction is valid.  I don’t understand it, it seems overdone to me, but imagining the alternative explains the reaction.  Furthermore, after I considered the possibility that other interpretations could exist, I had to imagine what actions are required in response to these other interpretations.  If this person truly thinks that I personally rejected them, then my response from here has to be rebuilding trust, which will take a long time.  But that is the reality.  And I try to live in reality.

What if means imagining alternative reactions to your actions.  What if means thinking of the possibility that other people think differently than you do.

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