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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


When Karen and I were in New York, we heard an amusing true story about a man who innocently found himself misunderstood.  He had a regular routine for going to work. Before going to the subway, he made sure he had his briefcase and his umbrella. However, this day, when he looked in his closet, there were no umbrellas. There should have been five umbrellas; however, he had a habit of leaving them at the office.

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After getting off at his subway stop, he always went to a diner across the street from his office. Routinely, he would enjoy a light breakfast and then go to work. This morning, after he had finished his breakfast, as he was leaving the diner, he picked up an umbrella - forgetting that he did not bring one in. "Stop! That is my umbrella!" shouted a very distraught woman. She snatched the umbrella while giving him a loathsome look. It was obvious she did not believe his saying it was an accident.

When he got to his office, he looked in his closet and there were his five umbrellas. In order not to forget to take them home, he put all five next to the door. After work, he picked up his briefcase and the five umbrellas. When he was getting off the elevator, who do you think was standing there with a disgusted look? It was the lady from the diner. With a sarcastic tone of voice, she said, "It looks like you have had a good day."

The above story vividly shows how easy it is to misunderstand someone. From her experience, the woman at the diner clearly thought the man was a thief. In her mind it was the truth. What she thought was the truth was not the whole truth. He took the umbrella by mistake but he was not a thief. Of course, she will not believe him because she has "her" truth. "I saw what you did - you stole my umbrella. Now you are trying to make excuses."

It is especially frustrating when we find ourselves misunderstood. No matter how we try to explain that there is another interpretation of what happened, there are people who will not believe us because they saw what seems to be the truth. They have turned their interpretation into a fact. When they do that, it is almost impossible to change their mind. Once they decide who we are, they interpret what we do afterwards in reference of what they think is "the truth" about us. They see what they believe and miss the other parts of who we are.

We cannot do much to change someone else's mind, but we can do something about our making sweeping conclusions about who people are. The truth is that all of us are more than what we do and say. We are people with many parts to our personality. After all, what we experience may not be the whole truth but our interpretation of the truth. The umbrella story reminds us that truth is larger than our interpretation of it.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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