So, we finally found out why Yamada Aoi ran away from home. I wondered how they’d weave serious backstory into this lighthearted show, but they actually did it pretty well.
Spoilers ahead, in case you didn’t guess.
Basically, Aoi’s mother isn’t good at talking. She overthinks everything, and when she finally opens her mouth, very few of those thoughts come out. When Aoi’s father was alive, he could interpret his wife’s miniscule expressions. He kept the family in a more stable state. Once he was gone, his already communication-challenged family had extra emotional burdens to process. He left a”Top Secret Mom Manual” for his kids, but reading it was not their first priority. Aoi didn’t even notice she got one. Instead, her relationship with her mother broke down. Aoi felt misunderstood and pressured to do well in school. She felt no sympathy—no emotion at all—from her mother, and she came to hate studying. Her mother, on the other hand, felt awful. She wanted to encourage Aoi to do well, and to comfrot her when she failed her entrance exams. But the words didn’t come out. Instead, she just bought more study books to help.
Clearly, there was a communication problem. The mother didn’t even communicate that she’s struggling to talk. Aoi shouldn’t need a manual to tell her that. Meanwhile, it may have been helpful for Aoi to confront her mother, to speak her own feelings instead of being isolated within them—or at least to enlist her brother’s help.
The problem stemmed partially from differences. Aoi and her brother are expressive. If they’re happy, sad, angry, or excited, the world knows it. Their mom isn’t as expressive… but that doesn’t mean she’s emotionless, let alone that she doesn’t care. She expresses the only way she can—through subtle changes in her eyes, changes her husband could interpret, and that her son understands now that he’s read the manual.
Most of us don’t have such extreme communication issues in our families. But even in the healthiest, most understanding relationships, we often misunderstand each other.
Take my family, for example: Mom, Dad, and I think pretty similarly, though we have some differences. I don’t need as many hugs as Mom does, and if I’m not careful, I can hurt her easily with my harsh honesty and occasionally feral reaction to physical contact. Then there’s Sis. If I’m an introvert and a “melancholy,” then she’s an extrovert and a “sanguine” (to use labels from temperament and personality testing). When we were kids, she’d make noise just because she liked noise. For a while, I thought it was because she liked to annoy me, but I eventually learned that annoying me was just a bonus. Just like I needed quiet sometimes, she needed noise. As we matured, we started to respect each other’s needs.
Communication became more important as my words sharpened. I’d say something I thought was just honest. In my opinion, there was nothing to be offended about… but it could really hurt Sis’s feelings. I can’t judge whether or not I’m saying good things based solely on my own opinion. Communication requires at least two parties. If one party doesn’t consider the other party’s “filters”—the way their personality and experiences affect how they understand and talk about the world—there may be an unfortunate breakdown in communication. Part of loving one another is learning to speak and understand one another’s filters and “language.” The most important part is recognizing that we are different and that we’ll never completely understand each other.
I like to think I’m good at this. I know my sister and I are very different, and that we express things differently. I carefully process things my family and friends say before I react. But yesterday, I finally exploded in response to how two people in my family were speaking. I sensed tension in their voices and words—and I’ve been sensing it all summer long. Usually, I talk myself through it and don’t get involved. But I was stressed, and my filters—both between my mind and mouth, and my ears and mind—were worn thin. I snapped at them.
Later, they explained that they did not feel the tension I thought I heard. They weren’t actually that frustrated. Despite my best efforts, I’d interpreted their words as if I was in the conversation. I assumed they’d react similarly (but not exactly) to how I would react. And I was wrong.
I was also wrong to keep this bottled up all summer. Sure, I thought I could process it on my own. Sure, I thought I was being understanding. But as they pointed out, understanding or not, my feelings still matter. If I’d explained to them earlier how they made me feel—even if I didn’t think I should feel that way—they would have worked on how they talked about me. By keeping my feelings to myself, I unconsciously hurt myself and robbed them of an opportunity to better understand how I see the world. They love me. They want to understand me…. just as I love them and want to understand them as much as possible. Communication is not just about me trying to interpret the other person’s expressions right. It’s also about helping them understand me.
So, back to the “Yamada” family. Aoi kept her feelings bottled up until her brother stole her natto. For her, that was the final straw. Instead of explain to him how important her natto was to her (clearly, he was clueless), or to her mother how pressured she felt to study, she ran away. Meanwhile, her mother didn’t even tell her that she had a communication problem, and her brother didn’t ask her if she’d read the manual. Aoi just assumed that their personalities were different, so they could never understand each other.
Why do I dwell on this? Because as a Christian, I believe we are called to actively love each other in everything, including how we communicate. I want to understand not only my family, but all who God brings into my life, as much as possible, so I can celebrate what makes them unique. And I don’t want to rob them of the same chance to understand me, if they wish.