Trying to understand

“You’re not even trying to understand me”, my friend burst out, frustrated when I’d objected to something that they’d said. I don’t remember my exact response, nor even what the topic actually was. But I do remember being just as frustrated as they were, because I was putting quite a lot of effort into trying to understand what they were saying. It was just that the thing that I thought they were saying didn’t make any sense.

It’s only now, years later, that I suddenly realized just how symmetrical the situation was.

My friend meant X, and my best guess of what they might mean was Y. To them, it was obvious that they meant X, so if I went ahead to assume that they meant Y, then I was clearly just being uncharitable.

When I objected to Y, I meant to say that I was expressing my confusion about my best guess of what they meant. Their best guess of the meaning of my objection was that I could have understood their intended meaning, but chose to be uncharitable instead. And since it felt obvious to me that I was trying to understand them, I took their reply of “you’re not even trying to understand” to that as a sign that they weren’t even trying to understand me.

So in both cases, one of us said one thing, and when the other misinterpreted it, we took it as a sign of unreasonableness – rather than as a reasonable interpretation, given the information that the other person had available. (Which still allows for the possibility that one or both of us really were being unreasonable, of course.)

Communication usually fails, except by accident.

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