One night, several months ago, I was in bed, trying to get to sleep, when I heard a radio playing somewhere. I could hear the radio as clearly as I have ever overheard any radio. I could not understand the conversation, but I could hear it going on. It was late, so I was kind of upset by the radio. I got up to find it and, suddenly, could not hear it anymore.

I laid down again and heard it again, so I got up and began to search the house to find out where something had been left on. I looked everywhere and found nothing. I also heard nothing. I checked outside to see if it was drifting from my neighbor's house, but there was no sound.

I laid back down and heard it again, as clear as ever. That was when I realized that what I was hearing was not a radio at all, it was a fan. My wife and I have a fan in our bedroom which we run at night. Not only does it help cool the air, it also creates a steady sound that helps muffle all the little sounds you get when you live in a neighborhood. I turned it off and the radio sound disappeared. I turned it on and the radio sound returned.

I was not hearing a radio at all. I was hearing a fan. It was not transmitting radio signals (like Gilligan's tooth on Gilligan's Island). It was just being a fan. The problem was in my hearing. I do not always hear a radio when the fan runs, but sometimes I do. Sometimes it sounds like water running. Sometimes it sounds like a fan. But it is always just a fan.

You see, "what I did not hear" was a radio. I just thought I heard one. I was sure I heard one. But I was wrong. There was no radio. My hearing is not a good measure of reality.

When I watch couples, one of the most common things I see is one person "hearing what he or she doesn't hear." Men and women are both guilty of this (just as my wife sometimes hears a radio at night as well). We are convinced that whatever we "hear" must actually be there. If we "hear" anger in our spouse's voice, then it means our spouse must be angry. If we "hear" bitterness or snarkiness or silliness, then we conclude that our spouse is being bitter or snarky or silly. We hear a radio and believe it is a radio.

But, maybe, it is just a fan. Maybe your husband, who married you and supports you with his work and comes home faithfully and does so many things, is just a husband. Maybe the anger you hear is not anger at all. Maybe the bitterness or snarkiness or silliness you hear is not those things at all. Maybe it is just your husband. Maybe he is just tired. Maybe you are just tired. Maybe he just sounds like a radio, when you know deep down he is not a radio.

Whatever else may be true, it is certainly true that I can listen to a common fan and hear a radio or a waterfall or a fan just being a fan. It is also true that I can judge others not by what they actually do and are, but by what I hear when they speak to me. This is a special form of self-centeredness: the idea that my perception is reality.

We need to stop looking for the radio at night and to stop looking for anger and other such things in the words of others. Let us judge them by what they are, not by what we think we hear.

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