For some, being misunderstood is more of a fundamental building block of their life than anything else. Being understood on any level isn’t even an aspect in life, much less an expectation. So the best hope is just for people to realize they can’t understand and respect that, because denying that and trying to do the impossible only causes headaches and problems for everyone. I mean, nobody likes being misunderstood and I doubt anyone, including myself, would ever choose it. But for those who’s lives are defined by it, no matter how hard we work against it, the only decent option is just to be left alone. Unless a person is similar enough in perspective, personality, or experience to actually understand, in which case you’re welcome to hang around. Or the very rare circumstance that you don’t understand but are open to learning new things…you are unicorns and are entirely welcome in my world. To everyone else….seriously….just stop. Let go of whatever connection you’re trying to make, and just…stop. It isn’t going to happen. We can co-exist on terms of mutual respect as human beings, we can have neutral common ground and maybe share some common appreciations in life (like coffee, or dancing), but we cannot be friends. Not in the relational or emotional sense of the word. There just isn’t a basis for that.
I think some people are so similar to everyone else, that smaller misunderstandings are more like blips on the radar and limited to specific miscommunications. For me, being misunderstood is just a fact of life based on inherent characteristics that are not common or commonly experienced. It’s more of a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am, how I am built, and what I am about in this life. And living with the constant reality of being misunderstood on such fundamental levels is not one that necessarily bothers me. Not in theory, at least. My relationship with God has always been real and strong enough that I don’t have any need to be fully understood by everyone and, for the most part, I’m just happy to be left alone. Why? Because most people I meet are not ones I necessarily want in my personal space anyways. But even so, I like that the world is full of different people, not all of whom are going to understand each other, and I wouldn’t change that even if I could. I like seeing people connect and share in common understandings. I like finding people I connect with as well. We’re humans…we’re made for that. My frustration arrises when the people who don’t (and usually can’t) understand me think they do…sometimes insist that they do…and then go on to start speaking or doing things based on whatever crazy conclusions they’ve drawn based on hopelessly false, entirely made-up information (usually their own feelings which have no support in the real world). The worst of those people (who I have the unfortunate tendency to attract) begin speaking and acting in ways that are completely dishonoring, disrespectful, and wholly damaging based on their own ignorant misunderstandings. Even the best intentioned people will wreak absolute havoc when they speak and act out of total ignorance and inability to understand things outside themselves. What usually begins as a slightly frustrating misunderstanding often ends in absolute disaster.
The people who do this lack the very foundational framework they need in order to accomplish what they’re trying to do (assuming they originally try to understand). Of course they don’t realize what they lack, so they simply use the structures they currently have to try and understand things outside themselves. They don’t realize that other structures besides their own exist, nor are they aware enough to understand that they lack the capacity to understand it, which is why their conclusions to matters usually end up with the misunderstood person being or having a “problem”. That’s their only conceivable conclusion because, clearly, they couldn’t possibly be the ones limited in their scope of understanding…(insert annoyed eye roll). It’s alarming how many people never even consider their own limitations as an option, or even try to stretch their understanding beyond their own firmly formed structures, much less accept them once realized. I am continually amazed at how staunch, narrow, limited, and yet rock-solid-confident people’s uninformed feelings and beliefs are, especially towards people and things they don’t understand. If it weren’t so destructive to those who are misunderstood, it would be laughable. Sadly, it’s one of the most damaging things I’ve ever encountered.
In reality, most people try to fit bits and pieces of information into their own schemas of what it is to be a human (which alone may not be a bad thing…at least they’re trying) but the problem is, they don’t have the right shapes for everyone. Even more destructively, they don’t even realize that they don’t. People are structured in all kinds of different ways. But usually, we only recognize or acknowledge the shape that applies to us or the few people we grew up with. We assume everyone else has that same shape or shapes without considering the alternatives. We keep trying to beat squares into circles or circles into triangles until we finally get so frustrated that we just think there’s something wrong with the other shape. But our whole understanding of life and people are limited to one or two shapes. Then we encounter someone who doesn’t fit into those schemas and don’t know what to do aside from change it or judge it. We may try to understand, but we don’t have the capacity…we don’t have the basic tools it takes to accomplish that goal. While some, usually more self-aware people will sit back and try to expand their awareness or gain those new tools, others simply start drawing conclusions. Conclusions that fit their pre-defined schemas, of course. Often times, this is where projection enters the picture and the limited person simply transfers their own thoughts or characteristics onto the misunderstood person. Then they feel like they “figured it out” and ta-da, they’re done. No growth required. No self-reflection necessary. Just more prideful conclusions with absolutely no information to base them on.
And this is the dangerous part, because the conclusion is so erroneous that people start becoming delusional in how they relate to you. I continually have people in my life who determine insane things (usually based on what they want or feel, certainly not on reality or anything actually accurate to me) and they refuse all information to the contrary. I’ve also had people become completely convinced I feel or think things I’ve never felt or thought in my entire life…and never ever will. Why? Because they’re filtering everything I say and do either through what they want to be true or through how they personally would think or feel. Then, of course, their conclusions can only apply to someone with their structure. They have no way of conceiving of anything different than that so they don’t even listen when things are explained otherwise. I’ve had a lot of people outright discredit me, or some who out right call me a liar simply because they can’t fathom or accept what I say. They assume all kinds of things without ever checking their facts. And when I tell them “no, I don’t actually think or feel that way…” or “actually…this is how it is…” or “no, for real, I don’t like you like that and never will… you’re gross, now leave me alone” they don’t believe it. They keep trying. And the keep causing damage. They just bypass all of reality, assume I don’t know what I’m talking about, and push ahead with whatever crazy ideas they want to be true.
It’s one of the most insane human tendencies I’ve ever encountered and yet I encounter it all…the…time. Which isn’t to say I’ve never been the person on the other end. I have been, and I have caused my share of damage to others who I did not understand. God is gracious though, and in time He always shows me where I have missed the mark. It pains me to see where my own limitations have caused other people pain when I have misunderstood or incorrectly drawn a conclusion about them. But being on the receiving end of that misunderstanding for so long has certainly caused me to wise-up. I am thoroughly convinced that if you don’t understand someone, and your only method of trying to understand them is to label them and shove them into your own schema of life (as opposed to stepping way back and opening your schema of life to include them in whole) then you need to leave that person alone. It will be to their benefit, I assure you.
One specific example I frequently run into stems from being the kind of person who always just speaks the truth straight-out about what I want and think. Apparently there aren’t a lot of people like that in the world because people are constantly trying to analyze my words to find some hidden meanings or motives that completely don’t exist. That, or they just conclude that I don’t actually know what I’m talking about and go on thinking whatever they make up in their own heads. Most of the time, they have no idea how to just take straight answers, especially if they don’t understand the answers. It’s ridiculous. I know when someone is capable of understanding me and when they aren’t, and I’m okay with those that aren’t. I don’t want or need them to. But I DO need them to accept that fact and stop causing constant damage in trying to do things they are mentally and emotionally incapable of doing. I understand a lot of people and a lot of structures, but not all. That doesn’t give me the right to disrespect them based on my own limitations, and I expect others to follow the same principle.
The people who are capable of accurately understanding other people’s structures are usually the ones asking open-ended questions and accepting the answers, even if they aren’t readily understood. They’re usually growing and learning themselves and enjoying the process and aren’t attached to the answers given. They have nothing to gain or lose from it. The goal is growth and expansion, not labeling or finding a formula or trying to get something in return (usually friendship or emotional connection, which will never happen with those people). But this growth takes a few qualities in order to accomplish. It takes maturity and at least a small ability to set one’s self aside. It takes the basic understanding and acceptance that people are different from you and if you lack the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s position and be able to accurately imagine how they would think/feel even if different from you, then you aren’t going to be the kind of person who can understand anyone outside yourself. If you try and keep getting it wrong, stop trying. Start accepting that some people are too different to ever fully understand. It would be better for the limited people to surround themselves with like-minded, similarly structured people and thereby spare the rest of us the frustration and drama of constantly being accused of insane things and having all our boundaries disregarded and crossed. It will also spare you the frustration of always getting it wrong. That just hurts everyone.
It’s no wonder that Jesus commanded his followers to be careful in casting judgment on others. Which isn’t to say we aren’t given both the tools and the duty to discern right from wrong. Discerning right from wrong in accordance to proper understandings of scripture is, of course, a fundamental aspect of being a Christian. I don’t think that’s what Jesus was necessarily speaking to in that statement. Jesus himself spends lengths of time describing right and wrong so we can judge those things accurately. But insofar as we cast judgment on others simply because they do not behave or act in ways we relate to or understand, that’s dangerous. Let us never be so arrogant as to take our personal structures and apply them to everyone else, as though our personal preferences and experiences are the world’s standard and norm.