On Being (Mis)Understood

"We were fluttering, wandering, longing creatures a thousand thousand years before the sea and the wind in the forest gave us words. Now how can we express the ancient of days in us with only the sounds of our yesterdays?" -- Kahlil Gibran, Sand and Foam

I have a terrible habit, especially when committing words to paper, of trying to say exactly what I mean.

Despite knowing that arguments are more persuasive when made in a direct, concise manner, I persist in trying to construct air-tight arguments that leave nothing to the reader’s interpretation.

This habit was born from a deep concern about being misunderstood.

Each time I edit my work – striving to take the advice of writers I admire to delete, tighten, and simplify – I furtively add words and lengthen paragraphs, insisting to myself that the additions are required for clarity.

But really, I’m just railing against the critic in my head. I’m trying to address every argument that could be made against each one of my statements. I’m working to anticipate how a friend or family member might misunderstand me, how the internet fact-police might pick apart my words, how anyone, for any reason, might disagree with me.

I sit writing, pouring heart and mind and soul into weaving my knowledge, experience, and perspective into work that I will offer up to others. All the while, that voice in my head – that amalgam of real and imagined critics and internet trolls – talks to me, and I listen. And out of fear, I often respond.

Why do I write for this person?

Hasn’t every writer, every artist who has ever moved me been a person with the courage to have a point of view – a perspective which will almost certainly provoke skeptics and critics?

Why do I seek to persuade by disproving the alternatives to my assertions – trying to force the reader to stay with me by cutting off her exits rather than by convincing her to stay?

The true genius of art is to bring another person with you to the edge of your question, and to hint at your answer. It’s for her to grasp with her own sensations and her own words. It’s up to her to seek to understand, or to seek to argue.

Perhaps we can only experience real connection when we are willing to risk being misunderstood.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published