21 December 2017

Unexpected interpretations

Often people surprise you by seeing something completely different in the story than you. A few days ago I meet with a group of local ladies for a writers meeting and experienced that first hand.
Each of us had to bring an inspirational quote to serve as the writing prompt. I provided one that reflects Stoics principles, “The happiest people I know are always evaluating and improving themselves. The unhappy people are usually evaluating and judging others.” For me, this is quite clear. Only thing I can influence and control fully is me. So evaluating and improving myself is the only way to improve my life.
We randomly picked the quotes from the pool, and my quote went to a sweet old Republican lady. And she saw it completely differently. A self-evaluation that was so important to me was completely ignored by her. Instead, she focused on improvement. She wrote about her wish to attend cooking classes, and the second part was transformed into a ‘wet towel’ husband who refused to allow her. For me, her perception of the quote made me realize how important is to adapt your writing to the audience, and that sometimes not even explaining till you turn blue will not bring understanding.
But I have to admit. I mangled the intent behind the quote I got, too. Mainly on purpose. I got a quote “Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you’re right.” I met such a quote before, and it is applicable only if one lives in a fully open society that allows class migration. Well, I did not grow up, nor I live in such a society and thus for me, this kind of quote is magical thinking. I’ve met hardworking, talented people who got nowhere despite hard work. So I wrote a short fantasy story where magic pedant basically allows you to really live this quote. Living in a society that does not reward hard work or merit formed how I see that quote.
When I learned who brought the quote everything made sense. It was another rich old lady. This one lived in million dollar house and often told the story how her mother biggest dream was to be a maid in the house where she lived, pointing out that her mother did not dare to dream. Her dream was to own such an expensive house. And she did it. She has s big expensive house and servants of her own.
This lady was really disappointed with my interpretation of her quote. As a baby boomer, she had a completely different life experience, growing up and living in a society that allowed her to switch classes. For her, saying was correct. For me, the saying is magical thinking.
So for me, this little gathering was not only an opportunity to see the truth behind the tip 'write for your audience'. But also an opportunity to see how life events and conditions influence our own perception of the world.
The difference between me and those old rich ladies comes not only from class but also from the difference in education, the difference in countries where we grew up and the different life events.
It is also scary to think that the same words we use could have a completely different meaning for you and me. Simply because we had a different life.
I end up wondering, how then to explain ourselves to each other? If we cannot understand the other person point of view, then how can we build understanding?

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