Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Monkey Puzzle: Difficult People Explained

Do you struggle with difficult people? The ones that get things so hopelessly wrong it is almost as if they are actually trying to wind you up or ridicule you? What makes someone else completely unable or unwilling to get the most simple things?

I have recently discovered a brilliantly insightful children's book called Monkey Puzzle, written by Julia Donaldson. In the book, a lost baby monkey is looking for his mum. A friendly butterfly attempts to help reunite the baby monkey. At each step, the monkey gives an adjective to describe his mum and the butterfly makes seemingly absurd suggestions, much to the monkey's annoyance. At first, the monkey says "bigger than me" and the butterfly takes him to an elephant. Next, the monkey says his mum's "tail coils around trees" and the butterfly thinks his mum is a snake!



At the end of the story, the baby monkey get very upset when the butterfly suggests the elephant is his mum for a second time. In anger, he says that "none of these creatures look like me". The butterfly says that the baby monkey never said that it's parents look like it and are also monkeys. The baby monkey is confused since to him, that was assumed and didn't need to be said. However, the butterfly explains that his young are caterpillars and look nothing like the parent butterflies.

During the search, the baby monkey got increasingly frustrated by the ludicrous suggestions from the butterfly. The monkey was viewing the butterfly as being difficult. The butterfly however was able to stay calm and finally hear the key to finding monkey's mum. On encountering the rest of the monkey family the butterfly could easily have got angry that the baby had withheld the most crucial piece of information. Instead, he neutrally explained that the monkey and butterfly come from different species and have different reproductive processes. Throughout, the butterfly remained curious and in the end revealed that during the story both sides had been innocently playing out the separate realities that they both lived in. The thoughts that occurred to the monkey were not the same as the thoughts of the butterfly. They were in different worlds until the 'looking alike' bridge connected them. At this point, they were able to work together effectively.

So, this is a cute kids story about talking animals. How does this help you and me to cope, understand and most importantly be unaffected by difficult people? The lesson from the story is that different individuals have different ideas about what is obvious. It seems annoying when people state the obvious. Just as bad when they ask obvious questions. However, in truth it allows for greater human connection. If I share something with you that you already know, it is not a bad thing. If you ask me something that I expect you to know, providing you with the answer is just ensuring we are both on the same page. If someone is not getting you and you think they are being difficult, what would happen if you assumed they were innocently just experiencing a different version of the world. Get curious about them. While explaining things that are obvious to you, the other person will sense your genuineness and not take offence. Ask them some open questions to find out how they see things. What is the worst that can happen? On the contrary, you will be surprised by what you learn.

Let me leave you with this: When you think someone is being 'difficult' change yourself by assuming they are innocent. This will make it natural and fun to get curious about what is different to them. Finally, do not assume anything is also obvious to them. We all have different obviouses.

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