About fifty years ago two teenagers broke into a factory at night.
One was 16 years old, Christopher Craig.
The other was 19, Derek Bentley.
Although Bentley was older, he was simple minded.
He had what we’d now call ‘learning difficulties’.
So Craig, although younger, was definitely the leader.
However, neither of them were very bright, and they were soon spotted.
Someone called the police.
When they arrived, Bentley (the older one) made a run for it.
But they grabbed him and he gave up.
While the police were holding him, some distance away, Craig (the younger one) shot two policemen.
One of them died.
Both Craig and Bentley were tried for murder.
They were both found guilty.
Although Craig, the younger one, had fired the shots, he was under 18.
So he was too young to hang, and was sent to prison.
Although Bentley, the older one, was being held by police when the shots were fired, he was over 18.
So he was hanged for murder, even though he didn’t fire the gun.
The evidence that got Bentley hanged was something he shouted at Craig.
A policeman approached Craig saying, “Give me the gun, son.”
Bentley, being held by police, shouted. “Let him have it Chris.”
Bentley said he was encouraging Craig to give up, as he had.
And he was telling him to hand over the gun.
The prosecution said Bentley was using Hollywood slang, and he was actually telling Craig to shoot the copper.
That particular interpretation cost Bentley his life.
The truth is we can all see how those words could be interpreted either way.
We interpret words to mean what’s already in our head.
We respond accordingly.
And usually what happens backs up our interpretation.
If we’re stressed, we hear everything as an accusation.
We think what’s going on in our head is actually what’s happening in the outside world.
In fact we don’t even know there’s a difference.
Just this morning I was waiting at the traffic lights.
They went green and the bus in front of me didn’t move.
I waited for another change of lights and still it didn’t move.
I got out to see what was wrong.
Had it broken down?
Had it hit someone?
Had the bus driver collapsed?
I walked up to his window and said, “What’s the problem mate?”
He started waving his arms angrily at me and said, “Where the fuck am I gonna go eh? You tell me, where the fuck am I gonna go?”
I looked around and there was a tar-laying machine in front.
I said, “Can’t you get round it then?”
He said furiously, “How the fuck do you think I can get round that? Can you drive a bus, eh?”
All the bus driver could was hear people blowing their horns.
He was frustrated and stressed.
So he didn’t hear me asking, “What’s the problem mate?” as a genuine question.
He heard me accusing him, “Get a move on dope, anyone can drive a bus through a gap that big.”
Because that’s the reality that was interpreted and reinforced.
And we all do that every day.
In every interaction.
Create a reality.
Then reinforce it.
As the author Stephen Covey said, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”