The Misery of Being Misundstood

I have a guest post up on Cordelia Calls it Quits right now. I’m talking about how I’m quitting justifying myself.

I feel pretty good about the whole switch, but family being family, and so skilled at button pushing, I still slip up from time to time.

You know what the hardest thing about not justifying yourself is?

You have to allow yourself to be misunderstood.

That is so, so hard.

Because what we’re doing when we justify ourselves, aside from defending out decisions, we’re also begging for understanding. We made a decision. We took action.

And it wasn’t the popular choice, evidently.

Were we wrong? We don’t know. Maybe? There’s probably no way to know yet. What we want is for our listeners to put themselves in our shoes, to say, I see where you’re coming from. I understand your reasoning. Maybe even — — I would have done the same thing myself.

We think — — we hope, that if we were right, everyone would be able to see it, if we just explained it to them thoroughly. And so, to reassure them, to reassure ourselves, we explain. We expound. We justify.

The worst part?

We’re not going to get what we want. Almost by definition, if we have to justify our reasoning to someone, they Just. Won’t. Get it. There is a fundamental disconnect, an uncrossable chasm. History might prove you right in every respect and they will still maintain you should have done things differently; better.

But here’s the up-side:

When you come to terms with the utter futility of explaining yourself, it becomes easy to resist. You know unequivocally that you won’t get the empathy and understanding you desire, and you stop flailing for it.

Most of the time. 🙂


8 thoughts on “The Misery of Being Misundstood”

  1. I partially disagree with the “up-side”. That’s the good ol’ “if you don’t try, you can’t fail”.Fail at making people see it through your eyes. So you have resisted getting reassurance from others for your decision. That’s not the whole story. Because it’s not all about you. In explaining your actions, you’re not just making yourself feel better, you’re conveying reasoning that might help your audience if they ever end up in a similar situation. Misunderstanding could mean someone else following your lead for the wrong reasons because you never told them the real ones.

    1. Mansour, I did have a section about teachable moments, but it didn’t apply in this particular situation, so I took it out.

      While I maintain that the vast majority of people are never going to be convinced that you made the right decision, regardless of how things ultimately turn out, I agree that if people are interested in your reasoning, it’s generally a good thing to explain it to them. If nothing else, it prevents you from pulling the wool over your own eyes. 
      Personally, I would love it if more people pulled me aside and said, “Whoa. That decision took me off-guard. Where’d that come from?” So that I could explain, because it’s a great tool to clarify your own process and your reasoning. BUT, most people aren’t really interested, they’re just pushing their own agenda, so it’s really better not to engage with them.
      Thanks for giving me the opportunity to explain!
  2. Probably an oversimplification to say we won’t ever explain, but I think most of us spend far too much time explaining. We’ll always struggle to stop explaining. We certainly won’t eschew it when it’s warranted.Took me ’til I was past 50. You’re decades ahead of the game.People will assume it’s about not caring. Don’t bother explaining 😉

    1. I’m going to fall back to my Captain Picard explanation here: Trust me. If there’s time afterward, I’ll explain.

      From my own side, though, there are few people I trust well enough to throw my weight behind until they’ve explained things to my liking. If it doesn’t concern me, though, I just pull up a box of popcorn and take a seat 🙂
  3. May I suggest a ‘middle ground’? Between “Never Explain” and “Explain their ears off” is a vast territory of “a little but not too much”. It’s easy for me to keep on ‘explaining’ and ‘clarifying’ and ‘justifying’ until the other guy is just confused again, AND bored spitless!

    1. Yes, but is it even worth your time? Wouldn’t your time be better spent just DOING instead of explaining anything to bystanders whose support you don’t need an don’t care about?

      1. Ah-HAH!  Methinks the relevance (and the good-idea-ness) of “don’t explain” depends almost entirely on just who you’re talking TO! And what you want from them in exchange for your explanations…. 

  4. There’s also a real difference between ‘explaining’ (Joel’s word) and ‘justifying’ (Shanna’s original word)- can’t clarify much right now – it’s 2:30am! – but I’ll try a quick-an-dirty: among other things, an <i>explanation</i> can more easily be an invitation to a discussion, where a <i>justification</i> is often (maybe by definition?) in the defensive mode, and almost any attempt by others to ‘discuss’ it leads to ugly exchanges. 

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