Cheese Graters & Communication

*huff* *puff* *sigh* *grunt*

He stands next to me, grating cheese for our lunch while I slice some meat and veggies for our sandwiches. He worked for about 2 hours earlier that day removing cabinetry, but other than that he’s been reading, and I don’t understand why, oh why, is it so hard to grate some cheese? Eventually I got frustrated with this apparently strenuous labor and told him to give it to me, and I would finish it. He seemed sorry to have frustrated me, but headed elsewhere and went back to reading. We talked about it more later, but didn’t resolve it because neither of us could figure out the other’s point of view. I couldn’t figure out why it was so difficult to just shred some cheese, while he couldn’t understand why I didn’t get that his arms were sore and it hurt.

A few weeks later, the situation repeated itself, but I approached it a little differently.

I asked him why he kept making those noises with every movement of the cheese, and he said “well, the repeated motion of it, and applying this much pressure gets tiring after a while.”

Wait. This much pressure?

I reached over and grabbed his hand as it was shredding the cheese, and immediately realized the problem. He was using way more force than he needed to, so no wonder it was making him feel stiff and sore! He was practically putting his entire body weight into grating down this block of cheese! My shoulder would have been sore after all of that too, and I would have known if I had just given him the benefit of the doubt.

Before me, he had never had the need to do much cooking, because we met while he was still living with his parents, and culinary arts had not been a core piece of family life in their household the way it was in mine. I often forgot that not everyone grew up using 30+ herbs and spices on a weekly basis, cooking alongside their parents for nearly every meal, and learning how to use a different appliance or technique at least once a month. Because of this, I had never thought that no one would have taught him how to grate cheese!

I felt awful for getting so steamed up about it, but the sheer simplicity of the problem made me laugh! After I finished laughing, first at the situation and then at the confused look on Nick’s face, I explained that we were grating a pretty soft cheese and that there was no need to use that much pressure. After spending about 30 seconds going over technique, he was zipping through the block of cheese like there was no tomorrow, and I was a much happier head chef with a much more productive sous chef.

While this story is pretty humorous in retrospect, it makes me wonder how many tense conversations, arguments, and relational friction could be avoided if each person took a second to see things from the other side. I had no clue that he was putting so much pressure into every movement of the cheese and was left feeling like he just wanted to get out of it, while he was hurt because his best shot didn’t seem good enough, all because we were looking at the same experience through very different lenses.

So, next time you’re in an argument and just can’t understand why your partner, friend, coworker, or relative is thinking the way they do, try to take a moment to experience what they are experiencing. Sometimes, other people are just cruel or obnoxious for no reason, but it is far more likely that you are seeing different sides of the same coin — so try to flip it around.

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