Consider the following three incidents that happened with me lately:
It was evening. I was sitting on the sofa with my father in the living room, watching television. I felt thirsty, so I started walking towards the Kitchen to get a bottle of water from the refrigerator. As I was walking, my father asked me in my native tongue Hindi, “Fridge mein paani hai?” (‘Is there water in the refrigerator?’), in a tone which meant that he actually wanted water but didn’t want to specifically ask me or tell me to bring him water. And my immediate response to the question was, “Aapke liye ek glass le aata hun” (‘I will bring a glass of water for you’).
Last week, my mother prepared tea for herself, my father and for me. She prepares a nice tea adding elaichi (cardamom), laung (cloves), tulsi (basil) leaves etc along with the usual tea powder and milk. The tea with these ingredients does taste good (try it if you haven’t already!) She brought the tea; my father took a sip and asked, “Isme tulsi patta daala hai?” (Have you added Basil leave in it?) As it so happened, that day she had added everything else except the basil leave. Hearing the question, her immediate response was, “Elaichi, laung daale hain. Tulsi rah gayi.” (I have added cardamom & cloves. Basil leaves are not there in it). I could feel a sensation of fear in her as she answered the question.
A couple of days ago I was going with my uncle (father’s brother) to the doctor. He was driving a white color Toyota Corolla which was his boss’s car. Sitting in the car for the first time, I asked him if it was a Diesel car. And his immediate response was, “Nai, ye Petrol gaadi hai. Par koi tension nai hai, average acchi deti hai.” (meaning, ‘No, it’s a petrol car. But it gives a good mileage on the road.’)
In all the above three incidences, the question being asked and the answer being given are, literally speaking, quite different. In the first case, my father actually wanted water but he didn’t want to be specific. So he intentionally asked an ‘indicative’ question. In the second case, unaware and irrespective of my father’s actual intention, my mother, out of years of experience of having lived with him, got defensive and started explaining her case. In the third incident, I had no intent of knowing what the mileage of the car was, but the question posted made my uncle defensive to the point that he interpreted the question as if I was checking if the car gives a good mileage or not.
In all three cases, one thing remains. The answer given was to a self-imagined intention rather than to the actual question. 2+2=5.
I ask you. Have you ever answered to an intention rather than to the actual question?
Say, one morning you arrived late to the office and your boss makes a statement, “You are late today” and instead of saying perhaps, “Yes, I am”, you started explaining your situation to him which maybe he had no intention of knowing. And immediately he interrupts you and tells you to get to your seat and start working.
Our minds are so conditioned to chunks of information coming together that it ignores the singular action actually posed on us. The intention is what usually we end up answering.
As-a-Trick: As a quick brain exercise, you can try this with a couple of people (maybe unknowingly you even do it already). Instead of asking a question directly, just ask an open ended question and see what they answer. More often than not, they will end up answering the intention behind the question rather than what you actually asked.
The question is what should actually be done? I am of the belief that to keep things simple and objective, I should answer only the question being asked and not the intention behind it. For the simple reason that I can never know for sure what the intent of the asker really is. All responses without actually knowing the intent is merely based on my own assumptions which with a 50/50 chance at best can be correct or which can be outright wrong too at times, thus making a fool of myself. Although I will add that I am trying it myself and am in no way perfect in responding in such a manner.
Try-it-out: Here are a few ways you can contemplate over to make sure you answer to the question being asked rather than the intention behind it. The next time you give an immediate answer to an intention rather than to a question, just think back and reflect for a while on the following pointers:
1. What was going on inside your head before you gave the spontaneous answer? If you responded to your boss the way as shown in the above example, upon introspection you may find that you have already prepared for the answer in your head and the response was irrespective of what the asker was actually asking.
2. Did you give your complete and unfocused attention to listening to what the question was? This resonates to the idea of present moment living and the art of conversations. Am I fully listening to the other person or am I listening to him and also talking to myself at the same time? You may also find that the moment the asker asked their question, your mind was ready with the response already prepared. It is as if the your version of the question was expected by the brain and the fact that a different question came out was completely a matter of surprise and since there was no time to even think of it, the automated response came out nonetheless.
Feel free to let me know if there are any other ideas you come across when you read this post or do this exercise. Who knows your particular thoughts may help me and others around. 🙂