You know that phrase “You hear what you expect to hear?” It goes along with the seeing what you want to see but it’s a little different.  In one aspect it’s really helpful.  Language has patterns.  Both in how it’s formed and how it expresses things, ie. context.  So if you miss a couple of words, depending on where they are in the scheme of things and how pivotal, you can usually fill in the gaps.  Which can lead to hilarity when you do it wrong. That’s the basis of Mad Libs and a great deal of sketch comedy.  But being able to fill in the gaps is great for avoiding that social gaff, allowing people who are losing their hearing to continue to manage in life and for deaf people to bridge the cap between one language/culture and another.  In other ways it can be detrimental. That’s why it can be hard to edit your own writing for mistakes.  We’re so used to the patterns, where certain words go, in what order that we don’t see when they aren’t there, when there are too many, the wrong spelling, etc.  Our minds just fill in and skip over.

This same tendency can effect our communications with people.  We know that language, behaviors, and relationships have patterns. Once we learn those patterns we expect things to conform to them and we tend to fill in the blanks when they do not.  I call this process emotional earplugs.  We’ve all experienced this at some point, we get through telling a really important story or anecdote and wait for a response.  The response we get is “Uh-huh, that’s nice.  So what I really wanted to talk to you about is…” Their emotional earplugs screened out what they weren’t looking for, filled in what they were expecting, and since the conversation was obviously done it was their turn.  Luckily what they filled in with was pretty neutral if dismissive stuff socially and relationally.

It gets way more problematic when what they fill in has nothing to do with you and is negatively charged.  You say “Honey, do you want a sandwich?” and what they hear is “I can’t stand your Uncle who is staying with us and I just wish you would both leave!” This can lead to some very emotionally convoluted conversations where neither side understands what is “wrong” with the other.  Again, can be hilarious, but often not so much. When emotions aren’t dealt with, they plug up our ears, leave us unable to hear, and then express themselves at the oddest times because we’re out of sync both with ourselves and those around us.  What we hear isn’t what’s being said, what we guess to fill in the blanks is rarely right, the other person can feel dismissed at best, and things becoming a mucky mess.  The more present we are with ourselves, the better we can hear others which is one of the basics of true connection.