April 20, 2006

Horse 534 - Missundaztood

I am worried about this concept of 'being understood'. It's all anybody wants these days, and it can't be healthy. Whatever happened to mystique?

I don't want to be understood. For example: I'd like a friend to think I was funny. I don't need them speculating that I grew up in a household of competitive proto-humorists, that I fear I'm not clever enough to make serious points, that I suffer from that irritating social neurosis where I feel responsible for filling awkward silences. I'd rather they just laughed.

Besides, a comprehensible personality is surely a bad thing. If you can be summed up in a paragraph, there's something wrong with you. Shakespeare's greatness lies in the incomprehensibility of his characters. Why does Hamlet pretend to be mad? Why is Iago so jealous? Why does Lear issue a 'love test'? In the original source materials, Hamlet is nine years old, Iago wants Desdemona and there is no love test. Shakespeare is deliberately introducing gaps and mysteries to suggest a world beyond the play. Real people are not immediately explicable. If Desdemona 'understood' Hamlet, he would be pointless.

Nevertheless, people these days want a summed-up personality like they want an iPod and Ugh Boots. The holy grail is a snappy account of 'Who I am' in a five-minute audition tape for Big Brother. Poor old David Hume wasted all those years explaining that there is no such thing as personal identity, that the mind is 'nothing but a collection of different perceptions, succeeding one another with inconceivable rapidity in a perpetual flux and movement'. Three centuries later, everybody is setting off to 'find themselves' in therapy or on foreign holidays. It's like looking for a yeti. Turn back, travellers, before it's too late! There's nothing out there but a blizzard.

Have you noticed how often you hear the words 'That's just me'? It's a reality TV catchphrase. 'I like to muck about - that's just me'. It isn't you, it's simply the way you're behaving. Whence this desire for constant self-assertion?

The more we yearn to sum ourselves up, the more information we put out there and, of course, the more fragmented 'we' become. Dig around the human psyche a bit deeper and you won't find 'identity'; at most, you'll find motives. Motives which are better left unspoken if you want a decent life anyway.

The last thing I want is for people to say, 'Ah, I see you are over-compensating for the fact that you were a lonely teenager and didn't get a driver's licence till you were 21.'

But I'm just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please let me be misunderstood.
- Apologies to The Animals

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I do not appologise for preaching: I think this isn't as simple as you've put it.

Do you really suppose you'd rather not have understanding?

What if you tell a bunch of jokes to ease the awkward silence and someone (mistakenly) decides that you're trying to be the center of attention and you're just a jerk whose full of yourself?

Or you tell someone you can't go out tonight because really you just don't feel good yet they (mistakenly) decide you think you're too good to hang out with them.

What if a relationship is suffering because the lady thought the guy doesn't like her because he doesn't talk much but really he just doesn't have much to say and does in fact like her?

When one is understood there is room to get closer to someone. You can know all sorts of stuff about a person and not know them because you don't truly understand them. Or would you rather be left as a person nobody knows? Surrounded by people but unkown?

God takes pride in knowing us and calling each of us "sheep" by name. Surely we should follow his example and learn to know and understand people, not treat a person coldly, like they're a robot, who is funny and the only reason you hang around them is because they make you laugh.

No one but God can completely understand each person, we are indeed complex, but I think to a certain extent some understanding is achievable and is needed for a healthy psycho-social life.

Take for example a child who is doing poorly in school and the teacher thinks his personality is a class clown goof-off when actually he is being physically abused at home and is under serious stress which is causing his behavior to be odd. Wouldn't you hope the teacher might have some understanding and be educated and wise enough to figure out something might be up? Usually in such instances she would scold him and tell him to get his uncooperative self to study hall. (which harms his self-esteem even more).
I can actually draw this from experience of seeing certain teachers being somewhat harsh on children who are not cooperating and the teacher thinks they need a spank because on the outside they're acting rebellious when actually their parents are getting a divorce and the child's behavior is reflecting this stress.

We also need to understand ourselves and know who we are and why we do the things we do. That way we know how to draw lines and say "this is what I'll do but this I will not do, and this is why...". Our collective behaviors are unique to who we are- we're not all clones. Each person should in fact want to know their own identity.

Furthermore, if we leave our motives unanalysed, we may continue in folly and make unwise decisions and walk farther from God.