I know that I’m more self centered than I should be. It’s something I work on, not by instructing myself to be less self centered, which is too foggy a command to actually obey, but through specifically defined efforts. One of the more useful ones I’ve come up with is to stop and think about what experience the other person wants to have.
Maybe for everyone besides me this is an obvious social skill that happens automatically. I’ve found for me, though, that usually I’m just on autopilot when interacting with others. If anything I think about the experience that I want to have.
Let’s say I’m arguing with a friend about something trivial, maybe the best method to book a plane ticket. He has his way, I have mine. If I’m on autopilot, my goal is probably to win the argument. Sounds petty, but I think it’s true for a lot of us. If we’re in an argument, we try to win. If I think about the experience my friend wants to have, though, that description probably doesn’t include losing an argument to me. In fact, it probably doesn’t include having an argument at all.
So why is he engaging in an argument that he doesn’t want to have? Maybe he figured out a cool trick for booking flights and wants to share it with me, but my pride is preventing me from listening. Maybe he sees me as an authority on travel and wants me to respect his own abilities in that area. Maybe other topics I’ve been bringing up have been boring and he’d rather be an active participant in an argument than a passive listener of something boring.
If I don’t think about the experience my friend wants to have, these possibilities never come up. I just focus on winning the argument, which isn’t a positive experience for either of us. Using context and my knowledge of the friend, I can probably figure out exactly what experience he wants to have, and then move towards that experience.
That doesn’t mean that I just concede the argument, because that’s probably not the experience either of us want. Instead I can ask more about his method to see if I’m missing something, recognize his skill in something related, or “agree to disagree” and change the topic.
It’s worth noticing that by taking any of these actions, I’m making things primarily better for my friend, but also better for me. Neither of us want to argue, but only by thinking about the experience he wants to have can I improve things.
This concept extends far beyond arguments and conversations. If I really want to go to a particular restaurant, but I know that a friend would feel more comfortable going somewhere less expensive, I think about the experience they want and agree to their restaurant. If I want to write about something that we did, but they don’t want the exposure, I write about something else. If we’re traveling and they want to go at a slower pace than I do, I agree.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my long term goals are very important, but that my short term desires are much less important than they feel. Winning a little argument with a friend might feel good, but it’s completely irrelevant to my life. On the other hand, having a good friendship is very important. Couple those facts together, and sacrificing petty desires for the sake of my friend becomes the obvious choice.
This process isn’t about becoming a pushover. It’s about being empathetic and honing the ability to assess the importance of each desire and goal you have. If I can give a friend, or even a stranger, the experience they want by sacrificing petty pleasures, I think that’s a worthwhile trade. Making those sacrifices builds strength of character. On the other hand, it’s never going to be worth sacrificing an important goal for an ephemeral experience someone else wants. The skill is in knowing which is which.
If you’ve ever been in a conversation that just feels frustrating for no clear reason, there’s a good chance neither of you was getting the experience you wanted. The same goes for when you and a friend are working on a project together and small conflicts are slowing progress. Relationships where there’s a lot of arguing about nothing fall under the same umbrella. You may have have played equal parts in creating the situation, but if you’re the one who can think about what experience the other person is looking for, it’s worth taking responsibility and giving them that experience.
I got a Withings Scale that monitors air quality as well. Was surprised to find that there was too much CO2 in the RV. I bought one medium sized Snake Plant and readings have been in the good range since then. Amazing!