Once a year in the summer, my wife’s sister takes her 3 children on a 15-hour drive from Arkansas to Green Bay, Wisconsin to visit us. The family stays for about 2 weeks sharing time and fun with all of our kids. The event allows all 13 cousins to spend some quality time playing, camping, water skiing and generally getting reacquainted. For the adults, it’s a 2-week family reunion that provides a break from the Johnson’s absence before their whole family (including their dad) travel back for the Christmas holiday. This summer’s trip was no exception.
With all the fun and activities going on, I was provided some neat insight from one of the seemingly forgettable events. It happened during a routine phone conversation with my sister-in-law; a call that normally would be quickly dismissed as a humorous error.
While the four sisters in my wife’s family were making plans for the events we would all participate in, I was home getting my twin boys to sleep. A phone call interrupted the boys’ bottle time. I answered with the usual hello followed by, “I am great. How are you?” By the sound of her voice, I could tell the caller was my wife’s twin sister Kelly.
She quickly got to the point of the call stating, “We are planning for the week and want to know what Savannah’s schedule is.”
It was a seemingly simple and earnest question; however, neither of my daughters’ names are Savannah. Kelly had mistakenly called my house when she intended to call her other sister Brenda, who happens to be the mother of Savannah. Not a big deal. We had a quick laugh and ended the call. What continued to intrigue me for several days was the pattern of thought that my mind went through in an instant of hesitation after Kelly posted the question.
I first examined the name Savannah to determine if I had heard her correctly. Next I reviewed the voice to determine if I had mistaken Kelly for my wife Tracy. Finally, I reviewed why she might be asking me about Savannah before clarifying with her what she asked. That seems pretty normal and simple. Now review the details of what my mind went through all in the split-second hesitation between the acts of hearing “Savannah” and responding verbally to Kelly.
My mind raced through all the names of my children – Lauren, Megan, Carson, Aiden, Owen – and my wife’s name, Tracy. This was to determine if any of those names rhymed with Savannah. If they rhymed, maybe I misheard her. None of those names rhymed with or resembled Savannah, so I didn’t misinterpret the name.
Then I recalled other names stretching beyond my immediate family thinking that Kelly might know the group I generally meet with – Kevin, Rob, Emily, Carl, Natalie, but none of those names resembled Savannah either. Satisfied that I had confirmed I heard Kelly correctly, my focus switched to who was asking the question.
I replayed the recording of the question in my mind to verify whether this was Kelly asking or my wife, Tracy. (Why that was important, I don’t know. Some other part of my mind was in control.) It took about 2 reviews before I determined it was indeed Kelly.
I then looked for logical reasons as to why she would be asking me about someone else’s daughter. “Did she think I had talked with Brenda or James? Did she think my wife was home and I would turn and ask her the question? Did we talk about this earlier at her mother’s house?” No was the conclusion to each of the questions.
Satisfied that I had no logical reason for being asked this question, I asked, “Who?” And when Kelly repeated the name Savannah, I said who I was and Kelly realized her mistake. We had our quick laugh.
The insight I got was on how quickly our minds’ relational database zips through all possible scenarios trying to make reason of a situation; even one that is a clear mistake. It likely takes 10-12 seconds to read through all the possibilities, but our brains on auto-pilot will conclude the task almost instantaneously. The more amazing part is that it seems to happen in an involuntary way. I didn’t stop and ask myself all those questions as though I was in an interview. Some part of my brain just reacted – like one of those on-line search engines that just miraculously pops the correct result. It reinforced to me the incredible power our brains possess.
The question for me now is how can I better condition and use that power to continue helping others in a greater and greater manner?