If you’re a fan of AMC’s hit TV show “Mad Men,” like me, chances are you’ve encountered two things while watching an episode. The first is the involuntary singing of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” thanks to the awkard/sexy/strange performance by Megan Draper (Jessica Pare) at the beginning of this season. (I for one couldn’t stop singing it for a week straight, to matter how hard I tried.)
But the second is an oddly profound realization about life and relationships sparked from a Don Draper quote. As for the latter, here is mine:
You don’t have to be a fan of Mad Men to relate to this quote. Whether it was from a song, a movie, a book, or the drunk guy on the street corner, I’m sure you’ve experienced an “Aha!” moment at some point. For me, this quote hits home on so many levels. I think it’s human nature that we can sometimes project things onto others: what we think they mean, what we expect them to do, how we interpret them, etc. But if we pay close attention, their character can become clear as day.
“People tell you who they are, but we ignore it; because we want them to be, who we want them to be.”
The telling isn’t literal, of course. You don’t see people walking around saying, “Hi, my name is Bob. I am a philandering sociopath who leaves dirty socks on the floor.” Or “Hey there, my name’s Jane. I’m a crazy alcoholic who will blow your savings account on Jack Daniels and Cheetos.” You’ll also probably never get, “My name’s Mary. I’m painfully shy, but am the most honest, loyal, trustworthy person you’ll ever meet” (and if someone does say this, run, because the opposite probably holds true.) Instead, the “telling” usually comes in minor actions or remarks that seem insignificant enough at first. And it’s usually the stuff we ignore.
The interesting thing here is that this applies to both the good and the bad. If we think back we may be able to recall a time where we ignored, or chose not to see, negative actions of another – a friend, significant other, business partner – because we wanted so badly to hold them in a positive light. You let the actions go, convincing yourself that it wasn’t their intention, was “no big deal,” or that they didn’t mean it. Maybe you even go so far as to defend this person to others. You continue the relationship until one day they do something so deliberate and obvious that you can’t ignore it, and it hits you like a ton of bricks. You may think: How could this happen? But looking back, you see that the signs were their all along. You just missed them, because you were focused on believing otherwise about the person.
On the flip-side, this can happen just the same if you aren’t a fan of another person or instantly don’t like someone you meet. It may be because you don’t like a family member of this person and you assume they are similar. Maybe it’s that you feel they pose some sort of threat to you. Maybe you interpreted something they once said as negative, (possibly from a personal insecurity?) or maybe you simply don’t like them because they remind you of another who you can’t stand. It doesn’t matter the reason – everything they do or say is now cast in a negative light. Consciously or not, you want them to be a crappy person. But I think it’s possible that if we gave them half a chance, we would see from the beginning that maybe they aren’t this type of person at all, and that they’ve told us that with their actions – but we’ve just chosen to ignore them. Think of all the incredible relationships and personal growth we can miss out on if we operate in this frame of mind.
Ignoring information to see what we want to see is something that, I believe, is only human on some level. But if we want to grow, and if we want to open our minds, I think the trick is to pay attention to our thoughts and catch ourselves in action. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over anything – just simply bring our awareness to it so we can gain some perspective.
Being judged is no fun, and it takes a good amount of awareness to call ourselves out when we’re the ones holding the gavel. And while judging is never a good idea, we should be open for signs, even if they point to things we don’t want to see. If you notice Bob’s wandering eye at the grocery store; if you find it strange that Jane’s fingers are orange at dinner, give it some thought. Because no matter how bad we don’t want to see it, recognizing things now is a hell of a lot better than seeing things too late.
PS – if you are not a Mad Men fan and are still with me, and are a tad bit curious about the “Zou Bisou Bisou” performance, here’s the clip: