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Being misunderstood and incomprehension of the other

Living with Incomprehension and Uncertainty (Part #12)

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Being misunderstood: Insight into the nature of incomprehension readily emerges from the process of "being misunderstood". Curiously there are extensive references to this experience which is explored in over 50 Songs about being misunderstood -- which is not the case with "incomprehension".

The condition of "being misunderstood" is also the subject of many quotations with ambiguous implications, as with the following from Brainy Quote

  • I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood. (Clarence Darrow)
  • It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood. (Karl Popper)
  • More has been screwed up on the battlefield and misunderstood in the Pentagon because of a lack of understanding of the English language than any other single factor. (John W. Vessey, Jr.)
  • No event in American history is more misunderstood than the Vietnam War. It was misreported then, and it is misremembered now. (Richard M. Nixon)
  • No one would talk much in society if they knew how often they misunderstood others. (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
  • The worst tragedy for a poet is to be admired through being misunderstood. (Jean Cocteau)
  • There is in every madman a misunderstood genius whose idea, shining in his head, frightened people, and for whom delirium was the only solution to the strangulation that life had prepared for him. (Antonin Artaud)
  • To be great is to be misunderstood. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
  • I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood. (Oscar Wilde)

The condition has been the subject of a number of studies, including:

Incomprehension of the other: Generically, the obvious converse to "being misunderstood" is the "incomprehension of the other". In that respect valuable insights are offered by Hélène Cixous as a radical aesthetic non-conformist in contemporary literature and literary theory (Rootprints: memory and life writing, 1997) who notes:

To return to the eventual shock with the other, the violence of the other: there is one that happens daily, that is up to us to manage. We are always in  a relation with negative incomprehension; not even an incomprehension, but very often a non-comprehension. Simply put: there is no openness. And this spreads out infinitely, in all our relations. But there is also a positive incomprehension. It is perhaps what we discover in love; or in friendship-love: the fact that the other is so very much other. Is so very much not-me. (p. 16)

Aspects of the experience are expressed in poetic form by Jennifer Strauss (The Seasons of Incomprehension, 1975):

The face I wear you do not choose to see... The face I wear you do not wish to see... The face I wear you do not dare to see... The face I wear is not for you to see... You preach of peaceful rest but I rot there, Where only death decides what face I wear.

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