Occasionally, you come across wisdom in such an unexpected place that you don’t notice it until later. It’s like driving past something quickly and then thinking “Did I just see …?” I had this experience recently when I ran across one of the best commentaries I’ve ever heard about what matters in a relationship.
Some of you will remember the television series MythBusters, when Adam Savage and his colleagues would test famous but questionable stories to see if they were scientifically possible. Since MythBusters went off the air, Adam has started a live podcast (complete with video feed) where he answers fans’ questions, many of which involve his time on MythBusters. The setup is pretty simple: Adam sits at a workbench and reads questions on his computer monitor as they come in, looks directly into the camera, and speaks to whoever asked the question. In one podcast, someone asked him if he imagines an actual person behind the camera when he gives his answer, or does he just speak to a camera lens. Adam replied that he pictured of his wife sitting there, and that this helped him stay focused on the reason behind the question.
Adam explained that most of the questions asked why he and his colleagues had tested certain myths instead of others, rather than the mechanics of the test. He added that he realized early on in his relationship that his wife did not share his interest in blowing things up or creating balloons out of lead. She wanted to know how the experiments affected him, or how he had grown as a person. She was more concerned about how his work affected him than how some strange legend affected his work. “I talk way too fast, and I am guilty of over-explaining things,” he concluded, “So imagining that I am speaking with my wife slows me down and makes me think about why the things we did on that show were important to me.”
(He then moved onto another question and described blowing up a cement mixer, but he did mention how bad he felt for the cameraman who missed the explosion.)
It took a few minutes before the importance of Adam’s words about relationships sank in. Often, when I get home after work, my wife and kids have already talked about their days, so when I ask how things went at school or work, all I get is, “It was good.” I’m happy that my family wasn’t miserable that day, but that wasn’t really the point of the question. Whether their day was good or bad is just the starting point. If they had a bad day, I want to know if they were angry, disappointed, sad, scared, or something else. Then I want to know how they dealt with the situation. Did they resolve anything? Will they face the same problem tomorrow? What do they need or want from me? What happened doesn’t matter to me as much as how it affected them.
Long ago I decided not to sugarcoat things for my kids, so I am truthful with them when I have a bad day at work. I want them to know about the challenges they will face as they grow, but I don’t want them to be scared of those challenges. It was only sometime after I heard Adam’s explanation of speaking to his wife that I realized I am trying to do the same thing with my kids. I want them to know how things affect me, partly so that they will know me better, but also so that they will have more strategies for dealing with life when it comes at them. I am thankful that Adam’s words helped me grasp what I have always wanted to do and gives me a way of understanding it that makes sense to me.
by Marti Malby, Director Peace House Community – A Place to Belong
This article originally appeared in “The Alley,” the newspaper for the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.