How uncomfortable is the misunderstanding.Especially when you have made (or thought you had) every effort to be clear and the other person hears something else entirely. I love words and I believe in communication but it is rarely precise and, whether you look at international diplomacy or face up to the fact that with this particular relative or friend, you can’t say right for saying wrong, misunderstanding is chastening.
You can’t spend your life saying the same thing over and over again – as if through a Victorian ear trumpet, ever louder – in the hope that the recipient hears the words in the same way as you say them. There is the matter of trust, and trust dented, if not broken.
Sometimes you read, see enacted or are party to the mending of fences, how someone covers the gap between you or how you in turn reach them. It is almost frightening if you care about the person, to have got it so wrong or that he or she has, and then suddenly, there is a bridge, to be sure a small bridge, single file, but there it is, swaying the breeze of breath – a bridge which enables you to reach him or her or the other way around. However, what is even worse (and throws you for a loop) is when somebody you have communicated well with for years suddenly doesn’t get it. Or mishears. Or misinterprets. Or just plain misses.
On such occasions, it is well to remember that humans can all make mistakes. If such mistakes have piled up over the years like discarded old socks, you have one set of expectations but if down the years, the channels of communication have been open (if not always comfortably), it is a shock to hear yourself (or the other person) admit “I didn’t think you meant that at all.”
Without the order of words and their emotional energy, I find life infinitely worrying. I am not confused, as much as I am anxious. I don’t understand when other people don’t understand that words for me are like gentling a horse. (I don’t know much about horses but when you read about or listen to people who do, there is an interdependence: Mary Renault writes of Alexander the Great and his mount Bucephalus “the mercy of invincible hands, the forbearance of immovable will”). That bridge that I referred to in an earlier paragraph is my life’s work: reaching people so they can say what they need to say and move on, one step, from where they got gridlocked.
I have trusted and mistrusted the spoken word and writing since I was small. People talk about something “ringing true” – yes, that’s music I hear – and just as surely ringing false. Of course taste comes into this, experience, personality, what you expect of yourself or the other, how you were brought up and going on from that, the track record, how long you have thought this or experienced that – of this situation, this writer, this person. And all of that involves trust – yours of me, mine of me, yours of you, mine of you.
I suppose the bit that’s missing from all this is how you learn. And it is a fact that many of us learn the big things in life not through the gentle voice of the admired but through the harsher voice of the dreaded. You only learn because something you have taken for granted isn’t what you thought it was, indeed was spectacularly different, perhaps even to collapse at your feet like a punctured balloon. How we admire people who pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again though often, while easy to say or write, it is often a long march through desert to accomplish. When you seek to explain to others the discomfort of your misunderstanding, what is offered is rarely big enough or warm enough to soothe you. In a major misunderstanding with one with whom you have always communicated well, the answer is patience. I wrote about that only a few weeks ago so I shall take my own medicine.