Recently, I had an infuriating exchange with someone who seemed determined to think of me as a boorish ass. I know my personality can come off strong, but in this case, truly, I thought I was being light and friendly. I was attempting to be cheerful and welcoming. Our encounter occurred in the most casual circumstances, and there appeared to be absolutely no reason for it to go the way that it did. But it did. It went from “hi there” to hateful in mere seconds.
Later — after this person had complained repeatedly and loudly to someone else about me, and after I had descended into name-calling (I’m a little ashamed to admit) — I reflected upon what had happened. I wanted to know why things had escalated, and why I had found the experience so upsetting and offensive. Of course, it was irritating that this person had been kind of a jerk. And it’s never comfortable to know that I’ve been a jerk right back, or behaved less gracefully than I might have. But neither of those things really was what had bent me totally out of shape. What I realized was that what I was most aggrieved by the fact that she had completely misunderstood me. It was discouraging and frustrating, almost maddening, because it felt like she had completely missed the point of what I was saying, who I was trying to be, how I prefer to think of myself in the world. Everything I said made it worse. My attempt at charm and humor had landed like a brick in the wall between us. I was heart-broken because she just didn’t “get” me.
I’ve made a special request of Patty that she sing the Nina Simone classic, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, this Sunday, both because I know she’ll sing the hell out it and because I’ve had it running through my head for a week. “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood…”
Our connections in relationship and community, our sense of belonging, has so much to do with feeling understood, being heard, being recognized. I tend to emphasize the importance of self-expression, emboldening all of us to share our unique voices with the world. We are here and we belong, dang it, so let’s sing our truth full-throated into Life, contributing the singular perspective that each of us embodies — our individual experiences and hopes, dreams, fears, and passions. Proclaim yourselves! Tell it, my sisters and brothers!
It has seemed to me that this is the essence of belonging — being ourselves, expressing ourselves, and being understood and accepted on our own terms.
But now I think this is only part of it. For sure, it’s critically important, but it’s only half-way to belonging. Because I’m remembering now that belonging has as much to do with understanding as it does with being understood.
St. Francis of Assisi figured this out 800 years ago. His famous prayer includes, “Grant that I may seek not so much to be understood as to understand.” Thanks, Frank.
Yes, I’m a soul with good intentions. And so is the person with whom I got into an argument. So is the person I just don’t like. So are those with whom I disagree vehemently. So are those who seem like irredeemable haters and who might even hurt me. Our deepest belonging — the belonging that our souls truly crave, our belonging to the Divine Infinite — must be unconditional and all-inclusive. And it has at least as much to do with how much we accept others as how much they might accept us. And accepting others, seeking to understand them, trying to love them… this is within our power. Tag, you’re it.
I can’t wait to see you, Dear Hearts. XO, Drew