Two sides to a coin

Imagine this: you’re a man sitting on a bus, next to some stranger who is also a man, and a woman gets on the bus, walks toward your seats, turns to the stranger next to you and says, “I love you.”  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to conclude two things: a) that the woman loves the man, and b) that the woman does not love you. The first can be a bit heartwarming, the second either neutral or heartbreaking. If the woman is somebody you’ve never met before, the conclusion that the woman does not love you is likely meaningless, and not anything you’d think twice about. Of course she doesn’t love you, she doesn’t know you. But, what if the woman were your wife. Now, not only is her love for the stranger next to you a betrayal, but the lack of love for you is about has hurtful as you can imagine. The point to take from this, and hold on to for what’s coming next, is that the lack of a message directed to you, while being directed to another, can be neutral or hurtful, depending on the context. Let’s adopt some shorthand for the rest of this. The situation when somebody does something nice for another (e.g., says “I love you”) and you smile because it was sweet is going to be called a “positive interpretation.” When somebody does something nice for another and you feel like you deserved something nice too, and you focus on the fact that something wasn’t done for you, we’ll call that a “negative interpretation.” Remember that jargon and let’s think about some issues in society and let’s see where this changes how we feel when we hear others say things, and how we might want to think about things we say ourselves.

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