Sometimes in a conversation, especially a sensitive or heated one, you can tell you’ve hit a brick wall. When you recognize that, it is essential that you allow your conversational partner to check out of the conversation. If you don’t, it’s virtually guaranteed that something far worse than a lack of closure will be the outcome.
There’s a saying I don’t much like; maybe you’ve heard it. It says “curiosity killed the cat.” The reason I don’t like it is pretty simple: it’s wrong. It drags the good name of curiosity through the mud for the sake of some supposed safety. It’s possible that curiosity contributed to the cat’s death, but it’s impossible that simple curiosity ever killed anyone or anything.
The reason I am so certain is that curiosity is only a desire to find out. Foolish curiosity may well have killed the cat. But that’s because a desire to find out can be carried out in a flawed and dangerous way, not that the desire on its own causes any harm.
We humans are complicated and intelligent creatures. We know a lot of stuff. A lot a lot. We can name hundreds of different plants and animals. We can cook. We can speak a language. We can read that same language from symbols put on paper. We can make paper. We can understand what it means to make things. We can understand abstract concepts that have no relationship to the physical world in which we live.
But we know these things in different ways. Some things we know so well we can do them without thinking. We can eat, breathe, and move without even thinking about it. We know those things so deep we almost never think about the act itself.
One of the hardest things I’ve learned in my life is that dreaming doesn’t make it so. This sounds so self-evidently true that you’d think I never needed to learn it. But I knew it, and sometimes still know it, only intellectually. What’s needed to really grow and mature and become the person you want to be is to know it completely instinctively and automatically. You need to know it in your bones.
We idealize relationships as equal. We think that you should give others — your spouse, your child, your sister, your mother, your teacher, your boss, the world — a quantity of work and energy, and get back something of about the same value to you. That’s why we’re in these relationships.
We know that relationships aren’t really equal. Many of us recognize the outsize debt we owe to our parents, or mentors, or friends. And many of us also recognize the times that we’ve given more than we’ve got — the relationships we walked away from as “bad” or “toxic”.
But for most of us, most of the time, we don’t recognize the extent to which no relationship is equal.