The Danger of Fill-In-the-Blank Relationships

Posted: July 28, 2013 in Relationships
Tags: , , , , ,

Valary and Me

Valary and Me

I spent a wonderful few hours yesterday with a dear friend from high school, Valary.  Except for a recent class reunion, I don’t recall that we’ve crossed paths geographically since our graduation in 1975.  We’re connected online via Facebook, but with her living in California and me in Kentucky, opportunities to catch up in person just don’t happen.  So when we realized that we would both be visiting our hometown of Winchester, Kentucky at the same time, we carved out time to commandeer a booth at a local Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant.  Over 2.5 hours later, we thrilled the servers by finally leaving.

We talked about all kinds of things in our time of catching up yesterday, interrupted at least once every 10 minutes by the very… um… persistent servers wanting to check on us.  I could write several posts here from the insights shared in our conversation, but one in particular stands out to me.  In a nutshell, it is this:

We don’t know all the struggles and detailed personal history others experience in their lives – factors that are critical in understanding how people arrive at their current place in life – why they think, feel and act as they do.  Consequently, we often make wrong assumptions about others based on very limited information and understanding.  We see gaps in their story and fill in those gaps with our own wild imagination.  We have fill-in-the-blank relationships, and we fill in those blanks incorrectly way too often.

Instead of creating and acting on our wrong assumptions about others, wouldn’t it be better for us to take the time to hear directly from them so that we can better understand their story?  Don’t just make up something to fill in the blanks of other people’s lives.  Then them fill in those gaps of our understanding.

As Valary and I talked, I learned so much about her and others that shows how little I really knew going into yesterday’s conversation.  I can now appreciate her and those others even more than before because she has filled in some glaring blanks in my awareness.

There is too much misunderstanding and conflict around most us every day, both interpersonally and on a larger scale between groups and nations.  It is a shame that much of the conflict may stem not from the facts of a situation, but from wrong assumptions, suppositions and prejudices that negatively impact our response to others before we even know their true, whole story.

After talking for 2.5 hours to Valary at that restaurant booth, it’s safe to say I know her better than ever, and I appreciate her far more than ever, even though she’s been a friend for decades.  That’s what talking one-on-one with someone can do for us.  We need more of that.

Fill-in-the-blank relationships are dangerous.  We need others – especially the people themselves – to help us fill in those gaps in understanding.

Thank you, Valary, for that important reminder.  Godspeed.

  1. CrazyPanamanian says:

    Very good insight and perspective. I forget this view often. I’m very good at reading people but this becomes a blindspot when I don’t know someone well. I guess at their perspective based on my perception rather than facts.

    What I encounter regularly at work is miscommunication through assumptions of intentions. Meaning that someone makes a request about something, the receiver assumes the small details and starts working on it. When a stopping point shows up, no one can pinpoint what the request is because everyone assumed something different for the request.

    We dislike asking stupid questions, and forget that those same questions are the ones that help in the long run.

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