by Rachel Inglis

posted 27th September 2017

“Your hair will go grey this holiday,” said my friend of a few months as we were at the airport ready to embark on a 5-week holiday together around South-East Asia.

I’d recently endured an acquaintance who regularly commented on my ‘advancing age’ and behaved as if the 18-month difference in our ages gave her a massive youthful edge over me. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe my new friend and I didn’t know each other quite as well as I’d thought.

I took a deep breath and asked ‘why?’ She replied that my stylish new short haircut was ideal for our forthcoming holiday and that my hair would be much more manageable than hers. I asked her to repeat what she’d said, ‘your hair will be great this holiday ….. why?’ I explained. We had a good laugh about it, and she was grateful that I’d asked her what she meant rather than letting it stew. Warming to her subject, she imagined how difficult the holiday could have become if I’d been hurt by, and then resentful about, her comment. Yup.

Years’ later as I began to guide people through the Spiritual Exercises I remembered this incident when I read Ignatius’s injunction at the start: “that both the giver and the maker of the Spiritual Exercises may be of greater help and benefit to each other, it should be presupposed that [each] ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on [the other’s] statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot interpret it favourably, one should ask how the other means it….”

In my experience, miscommunication is the commonest cause of rifts between friends and acquaintances, far more so than crass out-and-out rudeness. Currently, I can think of three I’m aware of between people who I suspect would get on really well if they had the courage to ask what the other meant by it. I’m also grateful to an acquaintance who told me he’d been hurt by something I’d said to him. When he repeated what he’d understood me to have said, I was mortified and explained what I had meant.

It’s often struck me how much smoother our relationships might run if Ignatius’s simple advice were followed and we asked how the other meant what they said before jumping to conclusions.