On being understood …
For years now, I have always said that I have a “high value of being understood.” Wanting to be understood by others isn’t so wrong, is it?
On a certain level, I would say ‘no.’ However, I tend to fall on the end of the spectrum with those caring too much about being understood and spending too much emotional energy and time trying to make certain that happens, especially when it comes to matter of the heart, deeper topics, and the like. (As a disclaimer, I think it is very important, when appropriate, to try to understand where others are coming from and/or explain to others where you are coming from. But it’s not always appropriate, nor needed.)
Although it may look differently for others, this desire manifests itself in very specific ways in my life. I tend to be way too “wordy” in discussions as I figure more words will equal less chance of others misunderstanding where I am coming from. It means that I will often say, “Does that make sense?” at the end of talking so that I can clarify anything if need be (rather than, ahem, trusting that others can simply ask if they don’t understand). Wanting to be understood even shows up in my writing when I use too many parentheticals, because hey – if someone doesn’t understand what I am writing, maybe the content within the parentheses will clear things up! Although I have stopped doing these things to the extent I did in the past, they are still present in conversation and my writing to some degree.
“So what?” you may say. Up until a few weeks ago, I would have said the same thing. However, I was recently challenged in this area. One day I was part of a “discussion” on a friend’s Facebook wall. She had shared a great quote and I engaged the quote, adding some of my own thoughts. A friend of my friend (on whose wall I was commenting) commented on my thoughts, thoroughly dismissing what I had said out of not understanding it, rather than asking me to clarify. ** note: I have opinions on whether or not there can be truly fruitful conversations via social media outlets, but that is for a different post …** Much to my surprise, I was incredibly hurt by this comment even though it was made by a complete stranger! Now, it’s fair to say that when you share some thoughts you have put some heart into, it can hurt to have anyone dismiss them, without even trying to better understand you. But, it was the extent of my emotional reaction that threw me off. Why would I care so much about the response of someone I don’t even know?
I had been misunderstood. And for that matter, the one misunderstanding me did not really care to understand. It’s funny, though, because in the last few months, I have had some conversations with friends about decisions they were facing and I clearly remember telling them that they needed to be ok with others not understanding their decisions, because that’s just part of life. We make decisions to the best of our ability, but others will not always fully understand. We might even engage in great conversation with those who don’t understand and at the end, they still might not understand. And that’s ok. But … it still bothers us, doesn’t it? It did me. But why?
After the Facebook exchange, I spent some time praying, asking God to show me what was at the heart of my emotional response. Over the course of several days, I realized that I, at times, place entirely too much worth on being understood by others. But, why do this? I think what I eventually realized is that I somehow do not feel that I (including my words, which are part of me) am valuable if not understood by others. Whoa. I’m really giving people that kind of power to determine whether or not I am valuable?! Sadly, yes. I do this. I think we all do.
But, isn’t it such an amazing feeling when you share yourself with another person and they truly “get you?” Yes! But, as an older, wiser woman challenged me, “But will you be ok being fully understood by only God (the One I believe made me and perfectly knows me)?” Gulp. It’s interesting because in my marriage, I have at times gotten very discouraged when Shun-Luoi doesn’t fully understand me in certain areas. I now see that I have placed unfair expectations on him. The truth is, Shun-Luoi will never fully “get me.” He is not me, he is not female, he cannot read my mind, and he is not God. Try as I may to explain and try as he may to understand, we will sometimes be like 2 ships passing in the night. Will I be comfortable being fully known by God alone? If I can be, think of how that would change things!
I also realized that Jesus himself was grossly misunderstood when it came to people understanding who He truly was and what He was talking about. Do I really think I am above being misunderstood when He, the actual Son of God, was? That seems a bit arrogant.
Good stuff. Hard stuff. But potentially life-changing stuff! So, now I have to consider my own advice – will I become more comfortable with the fact that I will be misunderstood by others, even those I love most and who love me most? Will I let go of my expectations that other should totally “get” me (or are even capable of doing so)? Am I willing to use less words and less parentheticals and trust that people will ask for clarification in need be, and be ok if they misunderstand yet don’t ask for clarification? And most of all, will I be ok if, this side of heaven, I am only fully known and understood by God alone?
And so I continue the journey to being able to say “yes” to all of the above questions. I figure it’s too crucial of a journey not to make.