Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Relationships and Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat

I was having an email conversation with a friend today about relationships. He shared a good analogy that he heard from a friend of his.

Basically, it went something like this: relationships are like the magician’s rabbit in the hat trick except that in relationships it’s totally unpredictable what might be pulled out of that hat.

From my personal experience, it can be an endearing cute miniature bunny (like my dearly deceased miniature rabbit Mr. Bunny Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting), it can be a terrifying rabid hare with blood-letting claws, or, in most cases, something in between like maybe a slightly neurotic rabbit that eats a bit too much and leaves tufts of hair on the carpet.

The challenge is will you be able to handle the rabbit eventually pops out of your beloved’s magician’s hat?

The conventional wisdom is you get better at this as you get older, but I’m beginning to question that as the last person I fell for completely threw me, and it was my fault more than anything. This was so much so that I realized that I wasn’t in love with him, but that I was in love with a fantasy that I’d put together in my head. When he performed his rabbit in the hat trick I was completely thrown off balance. It wasn't that it was a scary rabid hare, although sometimes it seemed to be, but it wasn't what I was expecting and it certainly wasn't what I'd fallen for. That was profoundly troubling.

I think one thing that got me off balance was being in a strange environment, yet assuming that people here weren’t that much different than the ones I’d left behind back home. I left San Francisco very open to seeing the world, traveling and learning about other cultures. What I didn’t realize was that people really are very different in some fundamental ways which runs head first into my belief that most people are essentially similar and mean well…or does it? I think both realities co-exist.

People are essentially similar as we all want love, safety and respect. I also think most people do mean well as I’ve been to many places and it’s rare that someone comes at me with hostility. In fact, most people I’ve met from Beijing to Berlin have been kind to me (less so in Berlin, but that’s another post). I think the differences arise when we don’t recognize those deeply embedded cultural differences that can turn an innocent faux pas into a huge offense and when we lack the patience to recognize what's happening and work with it rather than against it.

What I didn’t recognize was that even though I have a very racially and religiously diverse set of friends was that we were all young Americans pretty much raised in the same generation. Therefore, we share the same norms, have similar ideas of what is acceptable and unacceptable, and we have similar outlooks on the world. We also tend to be a fairly well-educated, well-read, opened-minded and well-traveled urban group of friends. Basically, we are the city and suburb dwelling middle class and up demographic that Audi and BMW are marketing to. What I realized was that my friends are more like me than unlike me in spite of superficial differences.

What that means is I went into the larger world thinking I had a handle on cultural differences when I didn’t. I only truly learned that over the last year when I had a couple of bull in a china shop incidents where I pretty much got responses I didn't expect. That surprised me because I thought I was Miss Cultured. The thing is when it crosses to interpersonal relationships things get difficult. That also leads me to the conclusion that the rabbit that I pulled out of my hat was probably more like that scary rabid hare than that cute miniature bunny.

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  1. Or maybe, we just assumed that the hat we were using was a foreign hat, not American made. That indeed was a lesson to be learned, but How expensive that lesson was!!

  2. So are you saying that people from other countries don't meet and fall for each other? There are tons of counter-examples, so I don't think where the hat comes from is the issue.

    I think not trying due to cultural differences would be the more expensive lesson.


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