Is there any greater frustration than being misunderstood? Is there something more agonizing that being pigeonholed in a clouded opinion of one who cannot see and hear you objectively? For me this IS the greatest of pains and the most difficult to rise above!
Years ago I was asked by two family members what I considered to be the largest personal challenge to my ego. I knew it immediately and the answer I gave them then is still the same answer I would give today…… being misunderstood!
My upbringing was entrenched in moral referencing, codes of ethics, religious underpinnings and lists of do’s and don’ts for which I made ridiculous efforts at being fastidious. I was actively aware of what was expected of me and my 6 siblings and also what living this immaculate lifestyle was meant to somehow guarantee in future reaping. There were covenants and promises built into this system of living, so by following this simple subscription I was bound to find eternal happiness.
We all grow into the adults that we were favored to become. Most of that growth came by great trial and effort and often many pitfalls and failures. The self-criticism born out of those failures is the first hurdle in the encounter we have with misunderstanding. We ask, “Did I misunderstand the rules”? “Could I have misunderstood the rule makers”? “Could I have over-estimated my ability and misunderstood my own strengths and weaknesses”, and worst of all, “Is the judgment that I feel from those observing me my failure or their misunderstanding of my intentions and best efforts”?
I have severely failed to meet the expectations built up for me by those who reared and molded me in childhood. It has been made perfectly clear to me that judgments around the results of my choices are concrete in the minds of my jury and regardless of my personal soul shaping and growth, the intentions behind my experiences are veiled in cloudy, half-formed and often absent perception from those attempting observation from the outside.
Isn’t that true on some level for every one of us?
The shaping of our sense of self may be riddled with these moments of self-inquiry, self-doubt and external misunderstanding.
“The teacher didn’t see the kid behind me flick me in the back of the head and is now punishing me for turning around in my seat”!
“The officer didn’t see the pothole in the road and pulled me over for swerving with a warning”!
“The surprise birthday I painstaking planned only annoyed my spouse rather than being appreciated for my efforts”!
“My inability to show up for my childs second parent/teacher conference this year due to work constraints has been misperceived by the teacher to be poor parental involvement and a disinterest in my childs academics”!
We all have our personal and painful lists throughout our lives and these disappointing moments are not likely to always remedy themselves with certainty. Some of these deep misunderstandings linger and destabilize commitments, break down trust and destroy relationships.
While we cannot shape the opinions and perceptions of others what we can do is to hold a special kindness for ourselves in these moments and deeply acknowledge our genuine intentions. Yes, our best intentions.
No one will ever maintain a spotless record of successful communication, execution and completion without ever failing to be perceived from the intentions of their heart. Human nature and communication in all it’s complexities guarantee that. Consider the many angles from which one can read and understand a casual text.
TEXT: “Why aren’t you here”? It could be a frightened cry,… it could be an antagonistic inquiry,… it could be a formal scolding,.. and it could be a casual question.
When we acknowledge with gentleness that our best intentions may miss the mark and be subject to misinformed judgments, we can hold ourselves harmless and exhibit kindness to ourselves for what we consciously meant to see manifest. This awareness within ourselves simultaneously opens us to the compassionate posture of seeing others intentions more clearly.
In a recent wedding that my spouse and I were honored to be witnesses for, the bride and groom had chosen to write their own vows. Included in the deeply personal vow exchange was the inclusion of the commitment to “Patiently forgive one another for personal failings in communication and execution of anticipated duties and to acknowledge their best intentions first.” Beautiful!
So what standard to you hold yourself to as a spouse, parent, employee, devotee, neighbor, friend? What do you hold others to? Compassionate inquiry and acknowledgment of our own and others greatest of intentions frees us from harming ourselves and those we love and respect. It honors who we are becoming and draws us closer to heart based relationships where forgiveness is found and relationships flourish.