Observing vs. Interpreting

This Summer, my boys and I were in Utah visiting family and I was taking care of my sister’s kids while she was at work. While we were away, my husband had to put our dog down. She was old and not doing well. The boys and I were sad and we talked a lot about it the first couple of weeks, but then a month or so went by and we didn’t talk about it much, and I thought about it even less. Honestly, I was more sad for my husband and my kids than really sad myself when we put her down. (I’m sorry to all of those dog lovers out there.)

One morning over a month later, it was very far from my mind, when I was crying over something very different. My son, Donovan, came into the bathroom and asked my why I had been crying (I thought he had been asleep). I told him I was just having a hard morning. He looked at a magazine, with a dog on the cover, sitting on the chair in the bathroom and said, “I thought maybe you looked at this magazine and you were sad thinking about Ellie (our dog) dying.”

That was probably the furthest thing from my mind that morning. But he was curious to what would cause me to cry, so he looked around and thought of something that would make him sad. There’s no way, with his experience, that he would have been able to know or understand what I was crying about. All he could figure out was from his experience.

How often do we observe people and make interpretations from our experiences what they must be thinking and feeling? Even if we are going through the exact same situation, there’s no way, from our point of view, to know exactly how they are thinking and feeling. It’s possible we think and feel similarly to them, but it’s also just as possible that we think and feel completely differently because we all have different life experiences. How helpful would it be to observe and ask, rather than to just observe and interpret?