Macie had taken a bite of her string cheese, then set it down on the counter and was chewing next to me sitting in front of the fireplace in the living room.

Sari walked by and noticed Macie chewing on something and asked me if she could have a piece of gum because Macie had one.

For reasons only parents understand, I didn’t answer her right away, so Sari moved on to Mom.

“Can I have some gum, Mom?” I heard her the second time and so I responded: “Sari, Macie is chewing on some string cheese.” Sari didn’t hear me say “string cheese”, she heard me say “gum” when I said the word “some”. She still thought Macie had gum, and asked again. I told her I said “some” string cheese. Sari said, “Oh” and finally heard that Macie was eating string cheese instead of gum.

We hear what we want to hear sometimes, don’t we? Sari was fixated on gum for some reason. So what she wanted to hear was a confirmation that she could have some gum because she thought Macie had some. She clued in on any words we said that sounded like gum, but really weren’t. She wasn’t listening to anything else.

Now this was harmless. It didn’t even end up in a fit at all. Sari just misunderstood and went about her day. There are, however,  “misunderstandings” that aren’t harmless. In fact, they are quite harmful.

I was thinking about my own life after this interaction and wondered: “When do I hear what I want to hear… instead of really listening?” And: “When are these misunderstanding more harmful than harmless?”