How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. ~Proverbs 3:13
“Whoever is searching for the human being first must find the lantern.” ~Nietzsche
This post originates from Facebook–February, 2009
A few years ago, a friend of mine said something to me that has continued to rattle within the empty space between my ears. He told me that one of the greatest fears that people have is to be misunderstood. At the time, He was sharing that it was his biggest fear. If remembering correctly, I acknowledged that being misunderstood definitely had to be high on my fear spectrum, though I did not believe it to be a fear that controlled me. Only looking back, do I realize that I was probably wrong.
It is not wrong to want to be understood. The problem arises when becoming understood becomes a compulsion in instances when a misunderstanding occurs. For me, when misunderstood, the result has sometimes been an intense case of verbal diarrhea–happening more often towards those whom I care for the most. The rapid procession of words, while sincere, only exacerbates the original problem of being misunderstood. If my efforts are unsuccessful initially, then the odds of being understood through further efforts are slim to none.
Before, I did not acknowledge it as fear because I rationalized my persistence in being understood as engaging in effective communication. Yes, I can now admit that it does not make sense in many instances to think that additional communication will be any more effective than the original, misunderstood communication. If only clarification is needed, sure, additional communication will help. The problem is when the other person’s interpretation is completely outside the framework of the actual message, which could (though not always) involve that person not wanting to believe what you say is true, so they choose to reposition it to something else.
Unfortunately, it had been difficult for me to believe that perseverance and integrity could not lead to eventually being understood; therefore, I would relentlessly try to achieve understanding through it. If anything, my perseverance only reinforced to the other person that which had been misunderstood, allowing them to also discredit my integrity.
To improve our chances of being understood, we must first seek to understand; though, this too is an inexact science. Sometimes people put words into another’s mouth (pride/ego or insecurity). Other times, people take words and interpret them outside of another person’s stated intentions (insecurity, fear, or lack of trust). Hurt people tend to withdraw and look inward, and may not be able to see that you are reaching out to them from love–they recoil. Further, they may not be able to understand you, because they do not understand themselves–they fail to have a healthy point of reference. The perception one has of the person communicating with them–and of themselves–often, if not always, determines the interpretation of the message. I believe that how a person chooses to communicate to another tells you much about their perceptions of that person with whom they speak, though it sometimes can speak to their view of themselves. Frequently, the underlying issue when two people consistently misunderstand one another is trust. They either do not trust the person with whom they are in communication, and/or they do not trust themselves.
Without trust, there is no discussion; only argument–or worse, silence and lost relationship. Is there anything more painful and debilitating than lost relationship? Maybe someone is afraid of believing what they hear because it would require changing the whole construct of his or her belief system. Pride or comfort in what they currently believe could make them unable or unwilling to understand a communication’s true intent. Maybe fear keeps them from taking a risk–no matter how glorious the possible alternative. Moreover, a person may possess an over-developed, pre-conceived notion of who the communicator is as an individual—whether from a first-impression or a valued friend’s well-intentioned but unjustified opinion—leading them to view anything that individual says in an inaccurate light.
We live in a society of pessimists; myself too often following the crowd. There is safety in pessimism. It is difficult to be let down if we assume the worst. When I worked in the agency world, emphasis was always made to under-promise and over-fulfill; pleasantly surprising the client in their pessimism and slowly earning their loyalty. Therefore, it would not surprise me that the most direct and honest people in society today are likely the most misunderstood.
Such people are honest “to a fault” according to society. Their flaws are visible, their intentions stated for all to hear (though not always believed). Even when they try to be gentle, the fact they soften but do not compromise their understanding of the truth will still offend many. People say they want transparency/truth, and expect it from these people, but often (in actuality) do not want to hear the truth for various reasons. What most people wish to hear is what they want to hear. These transparent, truth-oriented individuals tend to gravitate towards one another over time, because everyone else becomes selective in when they will associate with them. How many people, when they know they are blatantly in the wrong— or, for that matter, only realize they may possibly be wrong—will choose to hang out with someone that is willing to lovingly tell them they are (or might be) wrong if asked, the topic is brought up, or they see it is negatively affecting them? While a majority may not want to associate with such people, I would–and I often do. These, to me, are the people that love me enough to confront me. And because their transparency requires their faults to show, they (at least those that are Christians) are often the most forgiving and merciful–aware of how much forgiveness and mercy they need from others. Many such people end up becoming my friends, because the transparency, forgiveness, mercy, and love such people allow in their behaviors support long-term, committed, and healthy relationships. I make every effort to leave the door open for those I love to have such relationship with me, but (unfortunately) I cannot make people accept my invitation.
I believe that the direct communicator is infinitely more loving than the conscientious pretender. If things are wrong, I want it to be known. If I am wrong, I want to know. Comfort as a Christian is something I cannot afford if it comes under the pretense of lies. I desire Truth. If there is an issue between me and another person, I want to be able to discuss it with them and come to a healthy resolution. I wish that everyone could communicate this way so all could have closure to those difficult times in life. And direct does not mean that no effort goes towards being gentle in saying what needs to be said. If anything, when something will be hard to hear for the person receiving the message, communicating it as gently and lovingly as possible is essential. It is an area in my own communicating that I continually strive to improve upon; though, sometimes even the most loving positioning of a hard message will come across harsh to one who is not ready to hear it. For people to be transparent with one another–given our sinful natures–requires a great deal of humility and forgiveness (more on this a little later).
Consequently, where many of these communicators fail, is in their timing. Listening to others is essential to knowing where they are emotionally and spiritually–though, even listening will not always solve the timing issue. Sometimes what we hear the other person telling us they want from us is something we cannot do in good conscience–we see where it may be detrimental to them; clearly not beneficial. And we care too much to encourage or enable them into making poor decisions. Sometimes we will be right, and other times we will assuredly be wrong–we are not perfect. However, if we do not speak or act with a loving conscience, how can we truly call ourselves that person’s friend?
Regardless, it is important to avoid injuring the feelings of others when it is unnecessary. Unfortunately, sometimes it will happen no matter how hard we try to avoid causing such injury. But in stating such hard messages, one should say it with love in their hearts—for what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart (Matthew 15:18). Again, it will not always come across to others as loving, no matter how hard one tries. And when such truth from love has been stated, and the person to whom it was spoken is unable or unwilling to understand—do not be redundant—be patient and be praying. God is capable of working in that person’s life–with or without our involvement (though, what loving person wouldn’t want to be involved?). And hopefully, as the person heals, they will see the need…and have the desire, to reconcile themselves with those that love them. Sometimes, unfortunately, this may not happen–we live in a fallen world.
At times, it makes me think of how difficult it must have been for the twelve disciples to follow Jesus during His earthly ministry. He led them into danger. He often chastised their unbelief. He promised them persecution and death…but also a life everlasting. He was more transparent with them than anyone else, because they were His friends. Yet, the deepness of their relationships with Christ, the growth that we can follow in scripture–seeing their many instances of cowardice, but then the courage to follow Jesus and endure martyrdom–they saw His love. They, in what might be the greatest wisdom any of us can possess, were wise enough to understand that they could not always understand. And they rarely understood Him. They accepted His heart in those times when they could not understand. And while no one is Lord other than Jesus, we must accept that those that love us almost always intend to be loving towards us–even when they fail to be. It is a choice that will require us to forgive–but we too will need to be forgiven…and we will need to be loved when we are difficult to love. It is probably even more important in those instances than when everything is wonderful (Remember, Jesus came for the sick, not the healthy). And when we are that person who is fighting the Truth, we must open our eyes and hear with our ears; allowing our Lord to bring healing and restoration:
“Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them” (Matthew 13:15)
It is my desire to follow in the footsteps of the most loving, yet direct communicator in History, Jesus (see “Holy Bible”). Unfortunately, I cannot see into others’ hearts like my Lord. Jesus always knew the other person’s heart and their needs, so He never was in a position to speak or act on assumptions. His decisions always brought the most glory to the Father. He could speak Truth with one statement and follow it up with a parable that encompassed that statement’s whole meaning; relevant for all of time. When others were wrong and unrepentant, he would be unmistakably clear and direct to those people (e.g. Pharisees and Scribes). I must face my own unbelief, and realize that Jesus is still working in this world–I must trust Him as the twelve disciples did (okay, maybe not like Judas). Like them, I must be willing to accept hardship and persecution, even during those times when I may not understand why. I must never allow the devil and his followers to create in me a sense of resentment towards those that I love. I must fight the fear to hide and put the light of Truth under a basket (Matt 5:15). John, Paul, and David were quite direct in their communication too (again, see “Holy Bible”). John and Paul received brutal deaths as a result of their loving mission of Truth—but also eternal life with the Father. I want to communicate in love, not from fear. I desire to be a beacon of Truth, not one of societal approval–especially if society is not in alignment with His will. And I want to please Him, and those that love and know Him, in what I say and do. There is no fear in being misunderstood by my Lord. I trust that He understands…even if at times I do not.