Reading others’ minds is something we do all the time. And although we use as many clues as possible – words, body language, general comportment and a knowledge of the person him or herself – getting it right is often difficult. Such judgements are so much part of the way we communicate, that I assume others will be doing the same to me. Moreover, I expect I am not alone in feeling cheated when people or at least friends and family fail to read my mind and don’t sense when I am feeling happy, sad, hurt, anxious or whatever. Indeed, for me, a lack of such awareness suggests anything from disinterest, to inattentiveness and ultimately even to rudeness. And I say this knowing that in many circumstances I am seen as disinterested (and probably rude), although, in my defence, often my antennae are secretly busying away.
Obviously some people are better mind-readers than others. My wife’s capacity to know if any one in the family – husband or children alike – was feeling ill or well, even before they open their mouth at breakfast, worked wonders. But sometimes too much is assumed about what is or isn’t going on, and this was the case on bank-holiday Tuesday.
That morning I had made a special trip to the local baker. He happens to be French and my mission was to buy a particular French loaf – a campaillou – for the family, and some traditional French madeleines and macaroons for guests who were coming to tea that afternoon.
My son was over from Canada. Lunch started early so we could linger, making the most of the last few hours before he left to go back. The main meal, which included the campaillou, was not quite enough (at 6 feet 4 inches there is plenty to fill!) and after a further half hour chatting, he asked if there was more he might eat. He had seen the macaroons and madeleines on the sideboard. I was torn, but felt our tea-time guests would not miss just one, and down it went.
Our time together was precious and by dint of being somewhat distracted, coupled with a distinct sense of helplessness, I watched in silence as one-by-one the afternoon’s delicacies disappeared. Even my wife joined in. I managed to stop their nibbling with just half a madeleine left. But by then it was too late. The classy French items had gone and some local alternatives would have to be bought. I felt cheated, not to say hurt. Inside my mind there was an angry me asking how could those two be so thoughtless as to ‘steal’ the goodies that I had expressly bought for later?
But, in reality, my anger was unreasonable and my implied criticism unjust. It was unrealistic to expect my son to read my mind, when he could not possibly have known that the cakes were bought for later. Indeed, we had discussed macaroons that very morning and he had reminded me how much he liked them and I had even suggested that if we had any he could have some. Then, over lunch, I invested in him and in my wife the power to sense that I was worried about there being none left. For some reason I assumed that they would recognise, that they would divine, my disappointment were this to occur.
In most circumstances, although not here, it is reasonable to expect others to try to assess what one might be feeling. Moreover, if one senses that this is not happening, an obvious solution is to speak out and make one’s position clear. But in all this, it is nonsensical, not to say dangerous, to assume that others have special intuitive powers over things that are beyond their scope.
How much more I would have enjoyed my lunch had I explained my dilemma rather than staying silent and bottling it up. To assume that others have some magical insight is a mistake.