October 10 - Seeing Red!

“Every time I call him, he sounds edgy,” a devoted father said about his son tonight. “Now, before we even start a conversation, I expect him to be argumentative.”

“What exactly did he say to you?” I asked.

“Well, I inquired about how his classes were going, and he asked me why I wanted to know.”

“Hmmm,” I replied. I could certainly see how others might hear argumentative if they were searching for it, but I myself heard more fear than anything else. I could remember when I was a college student, and any time I was asked a question by a superior I shuddered, bracing myself for possible criticism.

This father had grown to expect an argument. Interestingly, this father also had shied away from anger or confrontation most of his life. As a result he has learned to scan for it so that he can try to avoid it.

As a result, he often sees it when it does not even exist.

In the August 28th hors-d’oeuvre, I wrote about seeing a snake in my garden. Ever since then, I have been very careful before I step anywhere in the yard, and I certainly always have made sure that I am wearing heavy shoes! But several times, actually as a direct result of my excessive care lately, I have heard a strange rustling noise or I have seen a flash of yellow. In those brief moments I have been certain that my reptilian “friend” has returned, only to see the neighbor’s cat or a butterfly instead. Because I was scanning for the snake, I was able to create an illusion of one out of the “evidence” that was present.

An exercise that clearly demonstrates this principle is to sit in the center of a room and scan for everything that is red. Why don’t you do it now before you read any further?

Your eyes will settle on maroon, pink, orange and, of course, red. Anything close will be noticed and considered. Now, when you are finished, close your eyes and try to remember what was in the room that was gray. You probably won’t remember many items at all…especially if you are in a room that is unfamiliar to you. What you are seeking, you will find. What you have not considered, you will generally miss.

Many of us as children were terrified of our parents’ anger. We were often spanked, banished to our rooms, or otherwise punished when we ignited parental rage. It was definitely not a game when they were “seeing red.” As a result, those of us who have experienced this are likely to be scanning for the possibility of anger today…in order to avoid it and all of its possible consequences. And as a direct consequence of this, we often see “red” not only outside of ourselves but also inside of ourselves, even when it doesn’t truly exist.

What if in our first example, the father had approached the call to his son with curiosity rather than the expectation of anger? How might the conversation have gone instead? Now that he understands this dynamic a bit better he has the option of addressing his son’s questions with a simple answer such as “I asked because I truly love to hear what you are learning. I feel really connected to you when we have conversations like this; I have missed seeing you everyday and somehow, just talking to you seems to help.”

I have a feeling neither father nor son would be seeing “red” after that!

What do you scan for in order to avoid it? Is it working or are you finding you see it more and more often instead? Could the increased frequency be as a result of looking for it? Would you be willing to practice going into your conversations with an unknowing mind, one filled with curiosity for example? Are you seeing “red” when it may not be there at all?

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