We Have No Idea What Other People Want

We spend so much time trying to direct how other people experience their lives.

It’s as if we hike up to an icy mountain lake and say, “Poor cold lake… I’m sure you want to warm up. I’m sure you want to be warm like me.”

And so we dive into the achingly cold lake, feeling all the agony of the barely-above-freezing water, telling ourselves that the lake must be really stubborn, or immature, or selfish—because it’s really not warming up.

It’s not doing what we think it wants to do.

It’s not doing what we think it should do.

Maybe, we think, we’ve chosen the wrong lake.

There are two lessons here.

The first is that we have no idea what other people want, and we are virtually always wrong when we assume that they want to be the way we want to be.

The second lesson, as @the.logan.lore and @iceman_hof acolytes would readily tell you, is that the benefit of swimming in an icy lake is not that you’ll warm it up and make it more like you, nor is it that you’ll become cold and icy yourself.

It’s that you’ll learn to be calm and centered in a space that’s very different than you normally exist in, and that will make you stronger and more resilient (and maybe even more loving).

Relationships are like that, too.

When I was presenting to a large group of Navy SEALs a few years back, I spoke about relationship stress in the same way as I spoke about other stressors like exercise or fasting: something that could either make you stronger through adaptation or something that could break you down.

So next time you think that someone else should do something the way you think you would if you were them, remember this: if you were (them) in their shoes, you would do it exactly the same as they are doing it. (Yes, you would.)

That means that they are doing it the right way for them, and that you do not, in fact, know what’s best for them.

So if you choose to get into a relationship with someone who’s different than you (that is, literally everyone), then perhaps letting them be them is a more open, loving, and truly fun way to exist.

That is, unless you think you can warm up a mountain lake by swimming in it.

Share on Facebook


  • Marie

    Perfect analogy for exactly what I need to work on right now, and always. Thank you.

  • Melissa

    Thank you!

  • Renee Wetstein

    does this hold true for mothers? My youngest son is traveling through Europe and just texted me he is going to Morocco – do I say great – have fun – do I consider the dangers and try to persuade him not to go or be careful? How do you truly let go as a mom and not worry?

    • Dallas Hartwig

      I’m not sure I have a good answer, but perhaps this is worth considering: what could you actually make better by worrying?

    • Cassie

      I understand this. I have had to learn to let go. It is so hard but I know I raised fine men with good heads & hearts and have to hope/pray for the best and that they know what they are doing. I still find myself worrying on occasion but am able to say (sometimes out loud!) “What is worrying about this accomplishing other than upsetting me?” and the answer is always Nothing. I do tell my children to be careful and that’s a habit I’ll likely never give up. I think as mothers we are experts at catastrophizing and creating scenarios in our head that will likely never happen.

      I did check the State Dept travel advisories and Morocco is back to a Level 1 so that is good. Peaceful, calming thoughts from one mom to another.

  • Renee Wetstein

    Thank you!

Post A Comment