I want to talk today about being misunderstood.
There have been many people on TLS who have felt misunderstood. I have felt misunderstood. In fact, we are all misunderstood at some time or another.
I won’t attempt to describe how someone else felt misunderstood. I am the best and most reliable witness to my own life and experiences. So I’ll share with you the three steps I take when I feel misunderstood. I’m going to use the episode that happened last week on TLS as an illustration. Some people said I did not empathize with their pain and that I wasn’t a good listener for them.
So here are the 3 steps I took in the face of what I felt was a misunderstanding:
1. STEP INWARD:
That is, when I feel someone misunderstands me and accuses me of something, the first thing I try to do is step inward. I try to understand what that person is saying and examine myself to see if their accusation is true or if there is even a shred of truth in it. Did they misunderstand? Or was I not understandable? So, for example, when someone says that I do not listen or do not empathize with their pain, I check myself to see if that’s true or even possible. Even though I like to believe I’m empathetic, did I fail? After looking at myself for a good length of time, I do have to admit that I have weaknesses and faults. I know I could handle conflict better. I’m uncomfortable with conflict and anger scares me. Therefore, I recognize that sometimes I’m not a good listener and that I jump to conclusions and make hasty decisions, especially when I’m panicking. I want to prevent more people from being hurt as quickly as possible, and I am sometimes hasty in how I achieve that. I really do want to be a good facilitator of community. I really do. That’s my promise to you. So I apologize for how I fall short or even fail. I want to listen. I want to empathize. I need to learn to do that even under extreme duress. This is an example of stepping in. I examined myself in the light of an accusation and saw how it could possibly be true, and I intend to grow from it and make TLS a better place.
2. STEP FORWARD:
It became clear to me through our ordeal, our conflict, that even though the vision and etiquette of TLS had largely worked up to now, that it was no longer working. I realized, while sitting on the beach during my vacation, that my vision and table etiquette for TLS was either not clear enough, not known enough, or not respectable enough. So I made up my mind that TLS’s vision and table etiquette had to be more understandable, respectable, and communicable. I talked with a lot of people over the last couple of weeks. A LOT of people for a LOT of hours. On the one hand, I was trying to understand them. On the other hand, I was trying to make myself understandable. I tried to clarify what I meant. I tried to elucidate what TLS was about. I tried to apologize and make things right and try to shed light on my heart and what I hope for. I tried to articulate what it’s vision was and what the etiquette meant. Particularly, I tried to explain that I could hear them and empathize with them while at the same time hear and empathize with a person they may be angry with. This is the most difficult process because, well, it involves another person who may be in conflict with you. Will we reconcile? Or not?
3. STEP AWAY:
When it becomes readily apparent that the other person cannot or will not understand you, then it’s time to step away. Some people give up during the arduous step #2 because it can get exasperating. I’m glad some people stayed in civil conversation with me as we attempted to understand each other. But it sometimes gets to the point when we realize that we are essentially on two different pages or even in two different books. We come to the sad conclusion that we simply cannot understand each other, or will not. Even though we speak the same language, it becomes obvious that we own different dictionaries. This can be frustrating and sad. But it can be relieving too. Some who misunderstand me and feel misunderstood by me are angry. Others are, oh well… we can agree to disagree and move on! So we do. I step away. There comes a point when you have to decide to stop investing in a conversation that simply is not healthy and is not working. I’ve lost more friends over the last week. In fact, I actively ended a couple of relationships that were toxic for me. That’s a new development for me, and a good one! It’s called self-care. I’m tossing that unhealthy Christian value that says I must be friends with everybody, even my abusers. So, sometimes it means a change in relationship. Sometimes it means a loss of friendship. But at least we tried, and at least we’ll be better for it.
In a nutshell, this is how it may work:
- I have a great idea about community.
- Someone tells me it’s a stupid idea.
- I examine it to see if this is true.
- I work with it to make it better.
- I try to articulate more clearly what I mean.
- If it’s still not understood, I may repeat the previous steps.
- Eventually, I realize we may see things differently.
- I move on because I believe in my vision!
I hope this helps you guys.
Peace, love and joy!