A few weeks ago, I heard the phrase “Low Candor and High Courtesy” applied to many of us at church. In this phrase, “low candor” means we don’t exactly share the full truth, and “high courtesy” means we do this because we want to be kind to others.
When my husband was a young manager at Boeing, he was sent to a course that included a 1984 movie titled “The Abilene Paradox”. During the first six minutes, the movie showed two couples sitting on the porch on a lazy Sunday afternoon. One man in the group casually suggested to the others that they could drive to Abilene, Texas for supper. One by one, each of the other people agreed to go on this 53-mile drive on a hot summer’s day. By the time they got home, tired, hot (no air conditioners), sweaty and grumpy, each of them shared that they never really wanted to go in the first place. The man that offered the idea also said “I didn’t want to go to Abilene to begin with, I was just making conversation!” “Low Candor and High Courtesy”.
So, the lesson from the Abilene Paradox is that when everyone agrees to do something that nobody really wants to do – to be kind to others, EVERYONE will likely be disappointed with the outcome.
“Are we on the road to Abilene?” became a favorite family question when we were attempting to make decisions as a family.
Recently we discovered a copy of this old video on YouTube, and my husband and I watched it again. (End at about 4:35 seconds into the video.) Yup, even after all these years, we still occasionally find ourselves going 90 MPH on the Road to Abilene!
One thing we’ve realized that we especially need in our mixed-faith-marriage is clear communication. Even when it takes a little extra time and patience to hammer out what we are each thinking and meaning, it is worth it.
After watching the movie together, we discussed the story and who we thought was to blame for everyone going to Abilene. I thought the person who made the suggestion to go when he didn’t really want to go was dishonest. He was probably suggesting an activity that he hoped no one would take him up on. My husband thought it was fine to make a suggestion, but the dishonest people were the rest of the group who said “yes”, just to be polite. Each of you will need to decide who you think was to blame for yourselves.
Here is an example of NOT being on the Road to Abilene:
Recently, my husband asked me to go with him to an RV show a few miles away. I quickly thought about his offer, knowing it was Sunday, it was hot, there was a lot of walking and really, if you’ve seen 100 RV’s, you’ve probably seen them all… So what do you think I decided? I concluded that being with him on a Sunday afternoon doing something he really wanted to do was more important to me than the rest of my arguments. We were NOT on the road to Abilene. We went and actually had a great time together, and as I predicted, no RV’s followed us home.
Here is an example of BEING on the Road to Abilene:
On another occasion, my husband invited me to go out to dinner at a place he thought I might like. I said yes because I thought it was someplace he wanted to go. (But I really didn’t like that place.) When we got home, neither of us had enjoyed our meal, and I was really grumpy when I found out he didn’t like the restaurant either – he was just being kind and thoughtful because he thought I liked it. I decided to go because I thought he wanted to go. In my way, I too was also trying to be kind and thoughtful.
It turns out neither of us are being kind and thoughtful when we are not honest about what we want. Actually, this can be a recipe for resentment. This is where our improving communication skills come in handy.
When you are in a mixed-faith marriage, opportunities abound for trips to Abilene.
The solution? Although we may be in a “low candor, high courtesy” culture, being honest about what we want is more important than trying to go along with others that are simply trying to make us happy.
I know you’ve all been there! I would love to hear your version of being on “The Road to Abilene” – just leave a comment.