02/12/2013 10:32 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

For All the Lovers in the House -- This Is for You

I don't get to see my Aunt Anne enough, but I take quality over quantity. On my last visit, she dropped a pearl of wisdom that resonates as I write this.

Of her more than 30-year marriage to my uncle, she said, "We don't have to be on the same page. We just need to be in the same book." I suspect some days, they may end up in the same chapter. Yet "being on the same page" is not how they define success for their relationship.

I recently participated in, observed and sat through a few meaningless and only one or two meaningful conversations, as I listened to sincere attempts to "get on the same page." From lovers, to friends, to colleagues, I think we would save time and energy if we took a page from Aunt Anne's book.

Ever have a conversation with a significant other that goes something like this: You talk and talk and talk and talk about the same topic. After about six hours (or it just felt that way), you reach some semblance of what seems like an understanding -- only to have the same thing happen the next day? Only it was different, but the same, but now it's time for, yet, another conversation? to "being on the same page."

Or consider a professional meeting. The meeting steers so far away from its agenda, you don't even know why you are there. Minutes seem like hours. You begin to think the person speaking is hypnotized by the sound of their own voice. The room gets small. The air gets thick. As the meeting ends, everyone says "yes", not because they are "on the same page" but because they just want it to be over!

I remember asking someone to define a word they used. They suggested I look it up in the dictionary. Instead, I reminded them, that a dictionary is a historical document about what words have come to mean over time. Looking up the word would have given me Webster's definition, but not their own.

Occasionally, we get close to being on the same page -- but we get stuck on paragraphs, sentences or a single word. There are 57 official shades of the color "blue," meaning there are 57 chances for people to see and think differently when the word "blue" is mentioned. Just because we agree on the word, doesn't mean we agree on the shades of meaning or the context. Seems obvious, but not so much.

It isn't always practical or even possible to be on the same page. Yet we spend countless hours, waste words, and exhaust emotions attempting to reach this elusive goal. Rather than chasing the illusion of being on the same page, better to start where we can easily agree.

Let's consider the wisdom of Pinky and the Brain, the cartoon about the daily misadventures of two mice who attempt world domination. Every episode would begin with Pinky asking, "Gee, Brain, what do you want to do tonight?" and Brain would reply, "The same thing we do every night, Pinky -- try to take over the world!" Instead of being on the same page, we might try serving the same mission.

"Being on the same page" is mired in the method, not the mission. My Aunt Anne focuses on the mission, while trusting she and her husband's agreement and vision for marriage and family.

Aunt Anne goes to the book, not the page -- and her family is better for it.

Illustrations by Used with permission.

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