“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.