The I-You-We Approach to Relatiionships

The I-You-We Approach to Relationships

There are three main ingredients in any relationship, namely “I” (myself), “You” (the other person), and “We” (the combination of “I” and “You”). People tend to focus on one of these three elements, somewhat on a second item, and much less on the third item. This discussion is intended to shed some light on some of the ways people engage in looking at a relationship. Depending on how a person starts this process of examining and establishing a relationship determines how s/he approaches this very basic element of human existence: relationship. Before we examine the differences between the “I”-first approach, the “You”-first approach, and the “We first approach, we need to discuss this murky word “relationship” because there is no consistent understanding of what this word means, much less how a relationship unfolds, improves, or deteriorates.

I should start by acknowledging that I am an “I”-first person because readers need to be aware of how I see relationships, but we will discuss this in a moment. I mention the fact that I am an “I”-first person because all writing has an important autobiographical element to it, however esoteric or scientific the writer might be. I mention this personal orientation to understanding what a relationship is because I actually recall a time when the word “relationship” became popular, namely in the 1960’s, largely in the later 60’s, about the time I was in graduate school studying psychology. I vividly remember hearing my wife (at the time) and the marital therapist we were seeing at the time used the term “relationship” as if it was clear what that word meant. I recall saying, “What is this thing you are calling a relationship?” to the therapist.” I also recall his disbelief that the word had very little meaning to me because it was so clear to him. He was, by the way a “We”-first person, and recall that I am an “I”-first person. .Since this word “relationship” has been so frequently used over the recent 50 years, it might come as a surprise to many people that this word, as well as the concept underneath the word, did not exist in the field of psychology and in popular literature until the late 60’s.

A bit of history

A review of the literature over the past 60 years or so will discover that the use of the word relationship accelerated in the 70’s and beyond to the point that it is now a central concept in clinical psychology and in most people’s day-to-day vocabulary. I mention this entomology of “relationship” because I am somewhat suspect of how frequently the world is used today, often without much understanding of the very nature of how people seek to relate to one another. Furthermore, many elements of our current culture are replete with references to “relationship” as if this word, and the concept under the word, had an exact and universal definition. The church I attend has as its motto: “…to build a relationship to God.” Now, I ask you, what does “building a relationship with God” mean to you, to me, and to everyone else? Something quite different, I suspect. I don’t want to disregard the essence of a relationship because I agree that the concept is dreadfully important. My interest in this discussion is to examine some ways that people see the essence of a relationship and how the differences in how people understand the concept of a relationship can create a myriad of successes and an equal amount of failures as they seek to “relate” to one another.

What are the possibilities?

So let me set the stage for this “I-You-We” discussion. As briefly noted above, people tend to have a predominance of one of these items in how the form a relationship. If you had a bit of advanced math, you know that there are six permutations, which is to say there are six possible arrangements of the three items. (Just for fun for folks who like such things, we arrive at this with the formula P = 3x2x1 = 6.). So these possibilities include three each that begin with one of the three items:

  • I-You-We and I-We-You
  • You-I-We and You-We-I
  • We-You-I and We-I-You

Think of these possibilities as a way people engage someone else. I-first people begin a relationship with the perspective of who they are, and perhaps what they feel, think or do. You-first people begin a relationship with the perspective of examining who the other person is. We-first people look at who the two people are together. Right off the bat, I suspect, I have lost some of you possibly because two of these possibilities makes no sense. For instance, We-first people might think something like, “A relationship is two people together, not so much one person and another person. Obviously a relationship is what happens between two (or more) people.” I-first and You-first people might vociferously differ from this perspective. I-first people might say, “Well, you have to have an I before you have a We, right?” You-first people could say, “If you’re going to have a relationship with someone, you have to know who that person is, what s/he thinks, feels, and does. Only then can you relate to that person.” Sound familiar? Do you find yourself saying one of these things? The reaction you have might suggest to which camp you might belong.

I will take the liberty of looking at three (of the six) possibilities (“permutations”) to focus on who people begin the process of relating:

  • I-first people would seem to have the more rational approach to a relationship. They simply think that “relating” to someone begins with one feels, thinks, or does. Then, they go into the You and We parts of a relationship depending on their next preference. I think that most I-first people think of the You part next, but that suggestion may simply be a projection of how I go about relating to someone. I tend to speak first, listen second, and then occasionally try to find some commonality between the other person and me. The I-first people I have known tend to favor the I-You-We formula of relating.
  • You-first people operate quite differently, and the key to their way of relating is in the format they use to relate. They ask questions. Their perspective is, “If I can understand the other person, I can then have an opportunity of relating to that person.” They then try to fit in, agree with, or sometimes carefully challenge the other person. But the heart of their relating is in the focus they have, namely how the other person thinks, feels, or acts. The You-first people, tend to be You-I-We in orientation to relationships.
  • We-first people are different yet in their seeking a relationship. They do not actually spend much time assessing of what they think, feel, or do, nor do they think much about what the other person thinks, feels, or does. Rather, they think that everyone approaches the matter of relationship as they do because they are so oriented to the We part of a relationship. So, they may talk (like I-first people) or ask questions (like You-first people). More often, however, they will just “feel” their way into a relationship or a conversation. So they will say, “It feels right” or “It feels wrong.” This “feeling” of right or wrong is tantamount to feeling “connected” or disconnected, words that we will discuss in a moment. The We-first people I have known tend to have the We-You-I orientation predominantly.

The strengths of these three orientations

  • We-first people seem to have the inside track of the whole business of relationship. They certainly use the term “relationship” more frequently and are on the lookout for how they “feel” with someone almost all the time. I think of these folks as having the “lover” temperament that I have written about. Lovers are those who look for “connections” with other people. I am reminded of an old friend who once said that every morning he would think about how he could “connect” with someone, and then go about his day looking for these connections. Another We-first person has fallen in love with my suggestion that his orientation is about connecting to someone, and it has given him the freedom to see that he is seeking reciprocal love with any and all people he knows, most specifically his wife (who happens to be an I-first person).
  • I-first people, like myself (and my wife) are much more inclined to make statements and declare ourselves (what we think, feel, and do) as a way of establishing a relationship. The underlying operation is something like, “I will give person A the opportunity of knowing me so s/he can decide whether I am a person who they might want to relate to.” The basic strength of us folks is that we know where we stand, what we believe in, what we have done, and the like. We assume (often mistakenly) that everyone else knows where they stand on things.
  • You-first people are yet different from I-first and You-first people mostly distinguished by their tendencies to ask questions of people, quite contrary to the I-first people who make statements of themselves. The gift these people have is a more genuine interest in other people than in themselves or even in a relationship that might ensue. We might suggest that they love people best, whereas I-first people love themselves best, and We-first people love the connection between people best.

The opportunities of these three orientations

  • We-first people are the best at knowing this vague thing we call a relationship because they understand the spiritual nature of a connection between two (or more) people. They “feel” something or the lack of it, and that “something” cannot be defined, just as a relationship cannot be defined. These folks are the best at cooperation, agreement, and common purpose. They make the best negotiators, for instance, because they give each party opportunity to speak while focusing on how the two (or more) people can find common ground and eventually common purpose and procedure.
  • I-first people are best as stating themselves. They simply state what they know or believe, or have done, and less so what they feel emotionally. You can trust these people most because they have the most established ways of saying what they believe, feel, or have done. They give the other person the opportunity of knowing who they are with the expectation that the other person will then return the favor. I-first people tend to be better at admitting to error than the other two types.
  • You-first people are best at understanding other people. As noted, they ask questions, and often questions upon questions with the primary intent of understanding the other person, and often know more about the other person, perhaps even more than the other person knows about his/herself. You-first people can put other people at ease and give them room to talk about themselves, something that is quite lacking in most social encounters when most people are looking for air time to talk about themselves.

The challenges of these three orientations

  • All three of these orientations have the intrinsic weakness of thinking that everyone else is just like them, but We-first people are perhaps most inclined to this weakness. When I hear from We-first people (or “lovers”), they always say that the difficulty they have with people is that it isn’t “fair,” which means that they haven’t received the care for the We part of the relationship. So, they think that I-first people are selfish and You-first people don’t say anything about themselves. We-first people often get lost in their relationships and lack a sense of You and I in favor of their constant looking for We. Then, they tend to get angry or critical, which is quite opposite to their true nature of loving and connecting.
  • I-first people are the most inclined of the three orientations to be self-centered. Because they so often know what they think, feel, and do, they tend to dominate relationships by talking about themselves, erroneously believing other people will do the same. With few exceptions I-first people do not grasp the “connection” nature that is so central to We-first people.
  • You-first people often lack a sense of self. This is because they are so focused on other people that they have not found time, interest, and ability to develop a sense of what they think, feel, and do. This “getting lost” in someone else is easy for them because they are so intrinsically interested (and loving of) other people, that they have not sufficiently established a true understanding and love of themselves, which sometimes feels to them as “selfish.”

The challenges and opportunities for all orientations

  • In all cases, and with all people, there is a necessity of growing beyond one’s basic nature. Importantly, however, one needs to know, value, and operate with one’s basic nature before s/he can grow beyond this nature. Carl Jung and many other classic psychologists and psychological theorists have suggested that this growing, or what we might call maturity, occurs later in life, rarely before age 50, and sometimes never at all. If one does not mature beyond his/her nature, that person will fall prey to becoming postured in one’s basic nature feeling the centrality of this nature. This amounts to being defensive, and it is a sticky thing to feel and observe because there is nothing wrong with one’s basic nature, but one’s basic nature is quite clearly not sufficient to pursue life successfully.
  • A second danger for all three orientations is that the secondary and tertiary elements in a relationship tend to be undeveloped, and hence immature. This means that I-first people end up being critical of other people (the You part) and dismiss the We part altogether. We-first people think only of connecting, but then their undeveloped I often comes up immaturely and ends up demanding or yelling. You-first people tend to fail in knowing and valuing themselves as much as they value others, and fall into a kind of hopelessness of knowing about others but not themselves.
  • However good it is for We-first people to love and connect, it is not good enough. They have to develop the I and the You to be mature and find success in life and in relationships. The so-called “co-dependent” relationships (not a term a really like, however), are often made up on one We-first person and an I-first person, or even more dangerous, both people being We-first people who don’t know who they are.
  • I-first people have to come to grips with the necessity of the connection that We-first people know and love and find ways to find this spiritual connection and value it. They also need to find the absolute necessity of knowing other people as well as they know themselves. Otherwise, they will end up postured in “knowing what I think, feel, and do” and not knowing much else.
  • You-first people most specifically need to find the I part of life. Because they are so intrinsically interested in other people, and because there are always other people to examine, understand, and even love, they often fail to have a sense of who they are. They can speak fluently about what someone else thinks, feels, or does, but have greater difficulty saying what they think, feel, or do.
  • In all three cases there is a seduction of one of these three natures:
    • I-first people are seduced by their own existence
    • You-first people are seduced by others’ existence
    • We-first people are seduced by the connections that they have…or don’t have

I suggest you find yourself in one of these three orientations and then examine other the people in your life, like friends and family members. Then just get some good psychotherapy, which ideally helps you see what is good about you first, and then how to add to that goodness.

Temperament VII: Lovers: Challenges and Opportunities

This is the seventh of a series of nine blogs on “temperament.” Previously, I have discussed the four temperaments that we have used to understand people for the past nearly 50 years. As we have defined these four temperaments, we identify players, lovers, analysts, and caretakers. Briefly stated, players seek experience, lovers seek connection, analysts seek truth, and caretakers seek effective use of property. For a more thorough review, see my previous blogs on temperaments, particularly on “lovers,” our current discussion. I also want to note that no one fits perfectly in any one of these categories, but rather people tend to be somewhat like other people in one of these categories, and sometimes two of them. Furthermore, people have characteristics of all of these four temperaments. And even more important, temperament theory is only one way of understanding psychological make-up. We will eventually discuss personality “type”, which was originated by psychologist Carl Jung and popularized by Elizabeth Briggs-Myers in the popular MBTI instrument. Other ways of understanding people would include gender matters, cultural matters, intellectual matters, and personal development. You will note, however, that our interest in understanding people is not particularly oriented towards psychopathology, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and the like. We have done a bit of such study in previous blogs as well.

In very brief review, the people we call “lovers” are people whose primary orientation is towards human connection. This is a concept that is hard to explain in objective terms because it is so subjective by nature. Like, what does it mean to be “connected” to someone? Lovers use this term all the time, using it as if everyone understands it. But not only are there widely different understandings of what “connection” means to people of different temperaments, we won’t be successful in actually defining this concept except to say that connection is a “feeling” (there we go again with an undefined, but important word) that happens when one person feels a kind of unity, closeness, or deep understanding of another person. We might call it a “spiritual” thing that happens to people, but this word is also undefined. So, let us proceed with this discussion in the murky waters of human connection that is certainly very real but just as certainly undefined, at least in objective terms.

Our current discussion is how one can be a “lover” in temperament and find success in life, i.e. relationships, work, play, and personal life. To be successful at anything one has to understand what he/she is by nature, which includes temperament among many other things. I just talked to a guy who is a “biker” among other things (also a mechanic and a truck driver; also a pretty intelligent person). He told me that an important female relationship didn’t work out with his former girlfriend partly because she didn’t understand his passion for all that goes with being a biker. I think that if he could have adequately explained his biking passion, he might have better at succeeding at his relationship, but he admits that he has very little skill at such things. Importantly, biking is important to him. So, there are many things that are important in what it means to be a person, among them passions like biking, but also temperament. The first thing that a lover person needs to know and do is to understand the nature of being a lover, which means seeking connections. But what does that mean? We discussed this somewhat in the previous blog about the Lover Temperament. In a nutshell it means that the person with this lover nature needs to see its connection-based nature, see that this is a good thing, a godly thing, and a valuable thing. This is the beginning of success in life: knowing my basic goodness.

The second thing is much harder, particularly for lovers: not all people are lovers, nor should they be. This is a very hard pill for lovers to swallow because love and connections come so easily to them, that they think love and connections should come as easily to everyone. I have to hammer away at lovers in my office to get the point across that they have a “gift”, which happens to be the gift of love (and connections), and that have an opportunity and an obligation to use this gift in the world. What does that mean?

It means that whatever they do, lovers will have love and connections at the bottom of their desire, whether this is relationship, job, friend, play, or personal reflection. So, if you are a lover, know that your approach to all of this will be to find some kind of connection. I just spent another hour with a typical lover, who is primarily distraught because his 32-year relationship hasn’t been successful. It is beyond his ability to conceive that his seeking of connection, however good and godly, was not enough, and is not yet enough to have a successful relationship. Nothing wrong with being a lover, nothing whatsoever; in fact, everything right about it. But loving and connecting is not enough. His wife, whom I know but briefly, is certainly of a different temperament, and simply does not need, and does not want, the connection that Sam wants all the time. This is a tough pill for Sam to swallow, but it is one he has to swallow if he wants his relationship to succeed. The same is true of the rest of life.

The rest of life is work, play, friends, and self-reflection. Knowing that you approach all these things, even the self-reflection part, with a penchant for connections is very important. Ideally, you have a spouse, co-worker, and friends who understand your need for connection, but it is just as likely that you do not. So finding success in these important arenas of life means that you have to know that your gift is but one of many in life, and at the most ¼ of what it means to be a complete person. This does not mean that you have to just tolerate your spouse, friend, or co-worker, but it does mean that unless he/she is a lover like you, you will not be able to forge the connection that is dear to you. You can have connections, but you can’t have them with most people, and maybe not even with your friend, co-worker, or even your spouse. You have to have connections, but you can’t have them with everyone like you would like. So, how do you cope with this? Sadness.

You cope with having less than universal connections with everyone in your life by allowing yourself to feeling sad. In fact, if you do it right, you will actually feel sad more often than most people because you love more than most people. If you don’t allow yourself to feel sad (and lonely and disappointed), you will end up feeling irritable, angry, and resentful. This is when you are not at your best, and sadly, very sadly, many lovers end up being quite the opposite of being the lovers that God made them to be simply because they expected too much of other people, namely expecting then to want connections. When lovers do not have the connections that they so dearly need in life, they can become angry, irritable, and even mean spirited.

Having discussed (briefly) some of the grief associated with being a lover, how might such a person find success in life, i.e. relationships, play, work, and friendships? First by noting and valuing this love gift, secondly by recognizing that most people don’t have it, and thirdly finding people and places where you can, indeed, have real connections. You might, for instance, find a connection with someone who is not a lover, but you feel the connection even though he doesn’t feel it. You might want him to feel it, but it can be just as good for you to feel it, perhaps entirely silently, without his even knowing that you are feeling it. You can find that moment in time when you feel something with a co-worker or boss at work, perhaps a time when you really feel what they feel, be it sad, hurt, lonely, excited, or hopeful. So, these brief moments of connection might not be what you would like relationships to be about, but it can be very good for you and keep you going in life.

Aside from taking these brief moments of connection, you need to foster one or two relationships that are mutually connecting. Lovers absolutely need this in their lives, and if they don’t find it, they will find some kind of compensation. Compensations tend to be anger, addiction, and avoidance. If you find yourself in any of these, know that you are compensating for the lack of the intimacy that is so central to your living and being. But finding that right person is no easy task and there are many confederates to the real thing, like affairs, for instance. I think most affairs occur because one or both of the parties happens to be a lover, usually a lover who doesn’t have someone with whom he/she has real connection. The addictions that people have in their lives are also compensatory, but then they become the go-to thing to do instead of doing the very hard work of developing a long-term relationship with someone, having a good friend or two, finding pleasure in work, and having good play in life. If someone has all of these things (good work, good play, good friend, and good intimate), addictions simply are not as fun and not as attractive.

All of this is very hard work, and the finding that the whole world is not made up of lovers like you is the most painful part of the work, and the most necessary part of the work. Then you will be at your best, giving, forgiving, learning, leaving, and connecting.

One taxi, two taxi, three taxi then four. Taxi (Life) Lessons in Portugal

Taxis: the good, the bad, and the ugly

When Ron and I travel in a foreign country, we rarely use taxis, so the whole experience of using them is a bit “foreign” to me. We’re usually driving, riding the train, or just walking. But when I recently went to Portugal by myself, I had planned to use taxis a bit more because I didn’t want to waste too much time finding buses and walking miles in hours to get to my destination hike. Furthermore, I had heard that taxis in Portugal were rather inexpensive, efficient, and friendly, so I looked forward to the convenience while getting from A to Z in Portugal.

Taxi #1: the vile ride

The first ride, what I have come to call “the vile ride,” was such a misrepresentation of the good of humanity that I can only do what we learned while living in St. John’s Newfoundland and affectionately call “the Newfie Nod” a specific side cock of the head which can denote a number of things from a simple greeting to an emotional “oh well, what are you doing to do about it?”

I had just arrived in Lisbon, still at the airport and went outside to find a taxi ride to my night’s lodging. I just assumed you go to curb side and wave your hand, but I quickly learned that it was required of me to go through the “cow corral” like the other hundreds of people and wait your turn. I took a few steps, stopped, took a few steps, stopped, turned one corner, took a few steps and waited, and on and on all the while wondering just how many taxis there could possibly be because the wait wasn’t a wait for a taxi to arrive, but for the seemingly equally long line of taxis to simply take their turn to pick up those of us waiting our turn. My turn came and before I could even take a breath the taxi driver was out of the car and had opened the boot. I waved him on by motioning to my back pack still strapped on, saying I will keep my pack on and began to get into the back seat. The driver remained outside and then with quite a huff, he slammed the boot and got in the car.  Then, having been instructed to do so by the hostess of the guess house to which I was going, I asked the driver that It would be “around 15 euros, right?” Then like a bolt from the sky he turned to me and with a face as fierce as his word he sharply spoke “You have no respect for me!”

Being taken back, I didn’t immediately say anything, which would have been impossible anyway for he went right on, repeating that I have no respect for him and that whenever he travels, he is respectful. His chastisement in tone and gesture indicated I was possibly the most of low life he had yet encountered.  Within a few moments of his barrage I attempted to down scale the tone by indicating that I was easier for me to keep the pack on given it was strapped to my body and I was already seated and that I didn’t want an extra expense by putting it the boot. Then regarding the amount, in my honest attempt at redemption told him that I had been informed of the approximate cost and simply wanted to confirm the expected amount. This explanation along with my subsequent apology was to no avail for he informed me again in no uncertain terms that I have “no respect,” that he did not know the amount, that the meter would tell him, and he would charge me for the luggage anyway.

Silly me, I then tried to assure him that this being my first day in Portugal I was just going by the recommendations rendered only to be met again with his spewing. Now, given he had already started driving, his suggestion that perhaps I would like another taxi, was a bit late. Finally determining that this man simply wanted an argument I declared that I would no longer discuss this in anger. He sped on and I held on for dear life as he acted out his temperament though his driving jerking across lanes, around vehicles of all sizes and barely keeping all four tires grounded through the round-a-bouts in what surely exceeded even the tourism warning of fast taxi drivers.

In a continued heated silence, we neared my destination. He slowed down, checked the address, stopped the taxi. In preparation for my departure, I had set my mind to be as kind as I could and display a genuine regard for him despite himself. After I paid the due 18 Euro and began to exit the car I said “I wish you well”. However, as soon as the door was closed and he began to sped off I could hear him say with his head out his window “fuck you”.

Taxi # 2: an honest mistake.

Having enjoyed my evening in Lisbon (on foot), I awoke to a beautiful morning enjoying what seemingly only European cities can provide, the most delightful sidewalk cafes filled with leisured patrons and nearby pastry shops to die for.  I did my best to also “take it easy” for a short time although I was anxious to get on my way to the Metro which would take me to the major bus stop where I intended to get a ticket to Porto Covo to begin my hiking excursion down the Fisherman’s Trail along Portugal’s beautiful coast. Once I arrived at the bus station, I was disappointed to learn that I had missed the first bus and there was not another bus available until 4 PM. Shoot. It was only about 9:30 which meant another 6.5 hours till the bus left and then another four hours on the bus. Ten hours. Darn. I had already lost one day due to a lengthy delay out of Chicago which in turn caused a missed connection out of Madrid to Lisbon. I didn’t want to delay my hiking intention and end up just being a “tourist” for a full day so I sought out a taxi. I found an attendant outside the bus station and asked about taxis going as far as Porto Covo. He waved his hand in an easy manner as he said that of course taxis would take me anywhere I wanted to go. He directed me to the taxi stand where again, standing in a line (short one, thank goodness) I asked the locals about taxis. They widened their eyes when I said Porto Covo and kept them wide in facial warning that it would be expensive! Humph. I waited my turn and began my internal debate of choosing between the utiles of time or money.

When “my taxi” pulled up I leaned in the window and asked if he could drive me to Porto Covo. “Porto Covo?”, he asked, as if he had just hit a gold mine.  “Yes, Porto Covo, can you do a longer ride this morning?” I asked how long it would take and how much it would cost, off the meter (I thought that I might need a bargaining chip). He had to check. I leaned back out of the window while he did his research. He came back to me with a hesitant smile and reported that it would be 100 klicks and about as many euros. I asked for a firm price. He then stated firmly that he would drive me to Porto Covo for 100 euros plus whatever the highway tolls might be, maybe as much as 30 euros. I confirmed that it would be off the meter and a flat fee for the mileage plus tolls. He re-confirmed. I bit my lip as I studied his face. He looked good, “clean” as I like to describe relatively healthy people. “Okay, let’s do it but I need you to give me a few minutes to go to the bathroom and get the cash (he wouldn’t take a credit card, his bargaining chip, I suppose).” He said sure, and showed me where he would be waiting. I jogged back to the bus station, did my duty and grabbed a quick espresso, having an absolutely lovely encounter with the young man serving me, and then giddily jogged back down to the waiting taxi. I was excited as I got in his cab because I was going I was going H-I-K-I-N-G!  He was excited too as he gestured to the meter to prove it was a cash agreement. He was going to get P-A-I-D! And so the two of us, each happy in our own way took off. I had no interest in conversation, looking forward to viewing the country side but I did venture to declare to him that I was an honest person and he returned the favor of noting that he too was a good and honest person. What could possibly go wrong with an easy morning 100-euro excursion? Within a few klicks I loosened up and offered that I had just turned 64 the week before and had come to his beautiful land to hike the Fisherman’s Trail. He had recently turned 62 and had not been to Porto Covo for many, many years and thought it would be nice to see the little seaside village again. That was the extent of our conversation. Traffic was easy, we were out of the city within a short time and on the main expressway passing various sites common to such drives. The silent ride was pleasant and going smoothly. After a bit we hit the wine country to which I gleefully exclaimed “Portugal Vino!” He turned to look out the window and chuckled, “yes, vineyards…good wine, Portugal. Good wine.” We rode on. Two good honest introverts doing their own thing made for a pleasant ride as I followed along my scant map noting the sign posts for a few of the cities and regions along the way.

The road stretched on and then I heard him sigh. I paid no mind knowing it was a “long ride”.  A short time passed then I heard him sign again.  And then, again but louder. I realized, that yes, this really was feeling like a long ride and that we should be there soon. And then yet again I heard him sigh as he began to dishevel his hair with his hand. I wondered what was going on. I noted that awhile back I had heard an alarm ping on his phone but I had paid it no mind and didn’t make the connection until he said that there was a mistake. A mistake?  He confirmed as he pulled off the highway (we had already gotten off the toll way and were on a lesser trafficked dual highway) onto a bit of gravel patch on which an abandoned car was sitting…just what was this mistake???

He held up his phone and said it was wrong, it was not 100 km, but 175! OUCH. No wonder it was feeling “long”.  My first thought was this is going to take longer than the expected hour while I simultaneously knew he was concerned that this was an unmetered ride. He reiterated that this was a mistake and did the hand in the hair thing again. I tried to keep the calm by saying “let’s think this though” but I knew it wasn’t going to work when he said “this is an omen!”. “No, no omen”, I said, “just a mistake.” “Are we on the right road?” I asked, wanting to get control of the situation “Yes, I know the road” he said in frustration, “but the kilometers are wrong!” He had me look at the speedometer he had set on trip. Yes, I could see it was already well over 100 km, and Google was now telling him there were 35 more to go.

I knew right then that there were a few decisions that were going to have to be made and that I wasn’t going to foot the full bill on this but thought it best that I keep my musings to myself. Sitting there on the side of the road I simply noted that he agreed to get me to Porto Covo. Bless his honest soul, he sighed again, this time with his hand to his forehead, and turned back onto the road. I silently began to calculate how much cash I had immediately available and how I could assist without taking advantage of him or allowing him take advantage of me. I had no doubt this was simply one of those “honest mistakes” that had to be swallowed, I just wasn’t yet sure by which of us. Besides we both stated we were honest people and I believed it to be true.

A bit more down the road we hit a roundabout and I saw a sign for Porto Covo that my driver had missed. Granted we were now on “country roads” and the signs were not posted as they would have been on the expressway. “Now what is happening?”, I began to think: did he miss the sign, was there a shorter route that he knew about, or was he just so distressed he wasn’t paying attention. We got past the roundabout and I looked back and again I saw the sign for Porto Covo pointing the other way. I spoke up and he looked back. Again he pulled off the road, turned around and looked at the sign and cursed Google and smacked the phone with the back of his knuckles.  He turned the car around and followed the signs to Porto Covo.  Thank the Portuguese gods, we only had a few more klicks to go. Once we were in the small town I told him to just stop anywhere.  He stopped. I took ahold of my back pack, opened the door and then handed him the 100 euros reminding him that this is what we had agreed on. Then I handed him 30 more euros letting him know that I watched the toll fees as they registered and that they weren’t even close to 30 but wanted to ease some of his distress for the honest mistake. Then, in the last moment I gave him ten more euros and he just shook his head and said “Oh, lady!” which sadly wasn’t in appreciation but in disappointment that I did not pay a euro each for the full 175 kilometers plus tolls.  I said I was sorry and got out of his car. I shut the door and felt very sad. I knew in many ways he lost more than I did. I began walking into town, and within a few minutes I saw him circle around. I didn’t heed him and he didn’t stop. Bless his heart.

Taxi # 4: Do you know where you’re going? (Yes, I am skipping to number 4 intentionally.)

I had the most wonderful five days hiking along the coast. It was everything I had been told, or had read that it was and now, back in Lisbon having savored a real touristy day and evening was back on the metro to return to my hotel which was about 3 klicks from the airport, as the crow flies, anyway. I made sure I noted where I had gotten on the metro and even took a picture of it on my phone for easy reference so I could get off at the same place. Once I got in the train, given the time of day, it was exceedingly busy and we were really crammed in. I mean crammed in. I thought about making a joke that I was glad I wasn’t going to be having sardines for dinner, but declined knowing that a lot of people don’t “get my jokes”. We jostled about and waited for the train to move. It didn’t. We shuffled and waited some more. Then the doors opened again and closed again. I knew this wasn’t the way the metro doors usually behaved. I asked some young men who had already interpreted for me and they said that there was some trouble. Obviously. Anyway, tight to the ribs we were. So tight in fact, that very jovial lady’s breast was solidly braced against my hand which held the floor pole. It struck me as interesting really. She didn’t seem to notice, or didn’t seem to care, or perhaps, who knows, maybe she was liking it. I am in Europe, after all. I couldn’t tell. She seemed happy enough, chatting and laughing with her friends. I figured she just wasn’t aware of it. But being a comparatively prudish American in a tram full of Europeans, I figured it was just me that was uncomfortable with this situation: a woman’s breast solidly pressed against my hand. Then of course, I began to wonder, as my eyes widened, what part of my anatomy was pressed up against someone? I tried not to laugh for fear it if were true I might jiggle that body part. I mused as to whether my fellow sardine travelers might wonder if I were aware of my body parts pressed up against them in some way. I laughed at myself again thinking, “Deb, this is Europe, not Wisconsin” and just did in Lisbon what Lisboetas evidently do in the sardined subway: I just smiled and hung on as if full body contact with a stranger was the most natural thing in the world.

As you can guess the tram did eventually move but the announcement was made that it would only go to a given juncture and not continue on its scheduled route. Okay, that meant that I would not be getting off where I got on which in turn meant I would not know where I was and how to retrace my passage back to the hotel (No, I didn’t think to use google any more than my previous taxi driver did). So, when the sardined tram finally came to a stop and the breasted lady got off in front me of, I left too privately noting if I could feel any release of human flesh from any given portion of my anatomy (I didn’t). I found a taxi just outside the metro station and leaned in to ask how far to my destination. He wasn’t immediately sure of the location until I told him it was about 3 Km from the airport as a matter of general reference and then he vigorously nodded his head and said with an unbending confidence “7 euros”. Great! I got in his taxi. Being in early evening traffic there were a lot of stops at lights during which times I noticed he kept fiddling with his phone. Then I realized he had circled around (I am not making these stories up!) He said he was sorry, he would find it. He would find it???? He is one of hundreds if not a thousand plus taxi drivers in Lisbon and he doesn’t know where the f… he is and where the f… he is going? He would find it? No less than three times, he said “Sorry, I will find it.” He then asked if I smoked? No. He asked if it was okay if he smoked and I responded with some kind of “please don’t.” He did his own rendition of sighs and hair gesturing.  Again, he was sorry and quickly stopped at a light, rolled down his window, and asked another taxi going the other way along the boulevard if he knew the Rue I was going to. That taxi driver shrugged and left when the light turned.  “Sorry” again he said to me. Then it was I who suggested he try Google maps. With this he finally pulled the cab over and stopped and punched my address into his phone. All I could do was roll my eyes. “Okay” he said, “I know where!” Great.  We got there eventually, but in a lot more than 7 kilometers. Even so, by golly, I was going to stick to his word. I paid him his 7 euros and walked away.

Taxi # 3: unexpected generosity 

Bear with me please, this is the best of them all.  Really.

So, I had just finished the last segment of my five days hiking along Fisherman’s Trail. It was wonderful. I knew that morning when I set out that I was only going to go part way since I was going to return to my previous night’s lodging in preparation for my BUS ride the next day to Lisbon. As I was hiking along the sea cliffs, savoring the last bit of the pounding surf I came to the trails end before I would go overland to the town of Rogil where I knew I would be able…to get a…taxi…back to Odeceixe. I assumed anyway, that I could and would.  Besides, if I couldn’t, I knew I would just back trek on the trail even if it would be a very long day doing so.

After what became a longer than I expected hike through farm land and off beat paths I reached Rogil. Staying on the inland road I reached a lovely coffee shop at the junction of the main highway. As I ordered a double espresso, I asked the owner if there would be any trouble getting a taxi back to Odeceixe. He shook his head and said “No trouble, easy.” Music to my ears, of course. I asked him that if after I finished my espresso would he call a cab for me. He smiled. Feeling confident and a bit hungry I ordered one of those nice little chicken pastries with my espresso.  I dropped my pack, took out my camera for a few last shots of the lovely gardens around the patio, and sipped my espresso and ate my little pie. I went back in and placed my cup and saucer on the counter and indicated I was ready for the taxi and he nodded affirmingly as if it was the surest thing in the world.

Within a minute he came out to the table and said that there was trouble with the taxi. I shuffled my feet as if to personally signal preparedness to keep on trekking… “Okay, trouble, of course, taxis!” I barely had time to think as he proceeded to tell me that both taxis were busy and were not available. But, without missing a beat he went on to say that he was going to drive me in his car.

He would drive me in his car? Oh, he is a taxi guy too. Okay, great. Really great. I grabbed my back pack and followed him down the back side of his espresso shop expecting a taxi cab to be sitting there. No, this was his personal car and as I stood there while this dear man began to clear out the passenger seat and floorboard of loose papers and empty coffee cups and all such things that tend to accumulate, I realized he wasn’t a taxi driver in addition to running an espresso café, but rather, this man was a good man who “promised me” a taxi would be available and was literally going to personally drive me to Odeceixe. And he did.  It was a delightful ride of about ten klicks in which in his limited English told me about his two children. One, his “woman child”, who was 21 (he wrote the number in the dust on his dash board given he wasn’t sure how to say the number), is away at college studying math. And his “man child” was 19, again, he wrote the number further down the dash dust board. The man child I learned is very good with computers and is at a tech school doing auto computer engineering. I indicated that he must be proud. He got the jest and nodded his head with a bit of embarrassed joy.

He took me into Odeceixe. As I got out he did too and retrieved my back pack from the boot of his car. We shook hands and then I gave him ten euros. Again, he embarrassingly smiled and took the ten-note. He turned his car around in the village square and as he banked the corner out of town he waved. Such a great taxi man, I thought. How wonderful humanity is.

Moral of the stories: win some loose some. But in the end, we win.  I believe this.

Granted there are rough and ugly people in life, like the first taxi driver who seemingly was determined to have a bad day for whatever his reason. Sometimes, we just have to call a spade a spade and let them go, hopefully without harm. God forbid he had been the driver down to Porto Covo!

Sometimes, there is simple ignorance and just plain honest mistakes.  They are going to happen. It doesn’t matter if it is me or the other guy who makes them. We have to let them come, think them through, do what we think is best and then, let them go.

Most importantly though, there are so many wonderfully good and kind people, all around the world. Certainly, I encountered numerous of them in Portugal both in the towns and on the trails: Germans, Scandinavians, South Africans, Australians, Swiss, Italians, Dutch, Canadians, and of course the Portuguese. Oh, and would you believe, only one other American did I encounter on the trails, all who were quick to smile, assumed for you a good day, happy to share a stranger’s meal, lend a hand up a ragged cliff or give you a promised ride when the other drivers were busy.

Everywhere, always, I believe there will be glorious moments of respite and the best of humanity will shine forth. I choose to focus on this.