“We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide To Personal Freedom
Have you ever noticed that a 2-hour movie would be over in 10 minutes if one character simply turned to another and asked, “So. Why are you upset?” Instead, we get two hours of guessing, recriminations, gossip and heartbreak before the final reel when the two characters realize that their assumptions were faulty and fall into one another’s arms as the credits roll.
The same thing happens in real life. Instead of asking why someone appears angry, we make assumptions (that is, we guess) as to why he might be angry. Instead of asking why a phone call wasn’t returned, we make assumptions like, “I must not be important” or “She doesn’t like me.” Instead of asking why someone appears to be scowling, we attempt to “read” the body language behind the apparent scowl and assume that we’ve done something to upset him.
We spend endless hours conjecturing with friends as to why someone didn’t smile at us or why our email wasn’t answered or why we were told “no” when we expected a “yes” instead of simply asking the person whom we feel offended by, “why didn’t you do (what I expected)?”
Silence isn’t golden. Unless we ask why a person did or did not do something, we are left only with our guesses and our imagination. And these guesses and imaginings can damage our relationships.
Here’s a real life example that had a happy ending 55 years later than would have occurred had one person simply asked, “So. How did you like the flowers?”
The story is told in the book (although not in the television movie based on the book), “Masters Of Sex,” the story of William Masters and Virginia Johnson who became famous and infamous for their sex research during the last decades of the 20th century.
In 1937 when he was 22 years old, Bill Masters fell deeply in love with Geraldine Oliver whom he called Dody.
At one point in their courtship, Dody was hospitalized near her home in Buffalo, New York. Bill was attending medical school in Rochester and, as soon as he heard the news, drove all night to be beside Dody.
Unfortunately, when he arrived at the hospital, Bill was told that he couldn’t see Dody because she was recuperating and couldn’t be disturbed. Bill left to drive back to school, but first left flowers and a note with the night nurse with instructions to please be sure and give them to Dody as soon as possible. The flowers were an elaborate and expensive assortment and Bill had gone to considerable trouble to get them.
Weeks later, Bill returned to Buffalo to see Dody after she had left the hospital. Dody seemed distracted and responded perfunctorily to conversation. Bill was dying to ask why she was being stand offish and how she liked the flowers, but never did. Assuming Dody had lost interest in him during her hospitalization and subsequent convalescence, Bill and Dody drifted apart.
Over the next 55 years, Bill got married, had two children and divorced after 28 years to marry his sex researcher partner, Virginia Johnson to whom he was married for 22 years.
In 1991, at the age of 76, Masters asked Johnson for a divorce so that he could marry the love of his life. He had run into Dody completely by accident. Neither had been looking for the other. Dody had herself been married, divorced and widowed from a second marriage.
55 years after the fact, Bill Masters found out that the night nurse had never given Dody the flowers and he never asked about it. Dody had assumed it was Bill who had lost interest and her silence was her way of communicating her hurt.
It took 55 years for Dody and Bill to be reunited, something that could have happened 55 years earlier, had he simply asked, “So. How did you like the flowers?” or she had simply asked, “Why did you ignore me when I was in the hospital?”
It takes courage to ask questions. But life is short and it saves a lot of time and grief.