Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Don't Understand

I don't understand people wanting to get married in a church cause it "looks" nice.* 

I know I have said that myself a number of times: “I don’t understand”, or “I can’t understand”. I’ve said it numerous times in the context of truly not understanding: “I don’t understand quantum physics.” “I don’t understand Hungarian.” I’ve also meant it in the same way that the poster quoted above did. I’ve meant it as, “I disapprove.”

My reaction to other’s people’s use of that phrase is mixed. If I hear or read a position with which I agree, like “I don’t understand why people are opposed to marriage equality”, it slides right by me. If I hear or read a position with which I disagree, I react by thinking something like, “I don’t understand why the world should be limited by your lack of understanding.”

Yes, I do understand that the phrase and its sister, “I can’t understand” function as figures of speech. I also understand that their function is to soften the real message: “I disapprove. I disagree.” If I say I can’t understand, I can slide right out from ownership of my disapproval and disagreement. I’m not trying to start a fight here, I just can’t understand. I know my disapproval means nothing to some anonymous poster on the internet, I just don’t understand. Why are you picking on me for not understanding? Did I try to tell you what to do?

I do allow for content and context. For example, I hear someone saying, “I don’t understand how someone can abuse a child” not as an attempt to evade the consequences of outright disapproval, but as a way of framing that behavior as completely monstrous, impervious to human understanding. I’m not going to quibble with anyone who says that. I’m also glad that there are those who struggle to understand how, so that they can prevent the behavior from occurring.

I have undertaken to be more strict with myself. If I catch myself saying or thinking, “I don’t understand”, I remind myself that maybe I should learn to understand. Understanding does not mean approval or agreement. Understanding does give me more information to draw on in choosing my battles. It gives me a way to affirm whatever I have in common with another person before laying out my reasons for disapproving or disagreeing. It reminds me that sometimes my opinion is unwanted and irrelevant, but that when it is wanted and needed, I shouldn’t be coy about stating it.

And I don’t understand why other people just don’t get this.

*In the example above, the poster was responding to a man who was unhappy that the church was making him and his fiancée spend “a whole Saturday” in a pre-marriage class. He added, “I think my resistance to it is (without turning this into a religious thread) are my problems with the church and I’m dreading having to listen to them.” He said “my problems with the church”, not “our”. It is entirely possible that the church choice is his fiancée’s, and that he respects her reasons for the choice. It is also possible that they are going along with parents, out of a desire to pick their battles. Nowhere was it said that the reason for getting married in a church was because it “looks nice”.

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