We had a financial advisor once who sold us an investment vehicle. At the time, it made sense, but as our priorities changed we determined it was no longer a good fit. I told him we wanted to stop putting our money there and he temporarily talked me into keeping it. Shortly after that, I told him again that we wanted to stop and he said, “Well, I’ve tried to explain it but I just don’t think you’re getting it.” I never spoke to him after that.
In another situation, there was a discussion on facebook. Not about anything important – I think it was about holiday plans or traditions. One person shared the way they did things, and others commented on how they handled that tradition, and the original person responded later with a “They just don’t get it.” Honestly, this person may have been joking at the time, but I still bristle whenever they expresses an opinion (even when I agree).
It may seem like I’m overreacting in either case (or both), but here’s the deal: the dismissive arrogance of telling someone that they “don’t get it” infuriates me. I’m talking red-faced, smoke-from-the-ears infuriated. Because when you say “you just don’t get it”, what you’re really saying is, “I have the one and only right answer, and the fact that you disagree with me means that you are too stupid to understand the truth.” Even if this were legitimately the case and you were explaining to someone that 2+2=4, and they kept insisting the answer was 5, it would still be assholean to say, “You just don’t get it.”
This isn’t just my personal pet peeve; it is destroying any chance we have in this country to have reasonable discussions, especially in the political landscape. The other day I saw a bumper sticker that said something along the lines of: Your Obama bumper sticker basically says, “Yep, I’m stupid.”
I voted for Obama, and barring some unimaginably crazy events in the next month, I’ll vote for him again. I’m not stupid. Add a little twist to that – I also voted for George W. Bush. Twice. Still not stupid. You can call me many things for having voted both sides: misled, confused, a little bit crazy; but you cannot call me stupid. I know where I am on that scale, and it isn’t on the stupid side.
Let’s get away from politics for a minute and take a look at this picture:
It’s a pretty basic picture – you’ve seen a million versions, I’m sure. Some people see the vase right away, others the faces. There’s not a right or wrong answer, and most people can eventually see both when they look at it long enough or from a different angle.
Now, let’s assume for a minute that when you first looked at it, you saw a vase. And then assume I saw faces. We were both presented with the exact same information, yet we saw two different things. Let’s talk about that.
“I see a vase.”
“I see faces.”
“What? It’s clearly a vase. Right there! Can’t you see that?”
“No, I still see faces.”
Sounds like we’re either preschoolers or pundits (it’s so hard to tell some days). Wouldn’t it be better to have a conversation like this:
“I see faces.”
“I see a vase.”
“A vase? Hmmm… I’m looking at the black areas – to me, it looks like there are two heads facing each other, there’s their forheads, and noses.”
“I was looking at the white space – where the top and bottom flare out, it looks to me like a vase, with a narrow top and a wider base.”
Ahhh, much better. And I don’t even think we need to come to an agreement on this. In fact, the world is more interesting if we don’t see the same thing and the ideal end of this conversation is, “I can see why you think it looks like a vase/faces, and I respect that. But I still think looks like faces/a vase.”
If we can come away from the conversation with those remarks it means that we listened to one other, explained ourselves, but never felt that we had to convert the other to our own thinking. Because the truth is that we don’t have to agree to get along. We can even vehemently disagree on many things and still be able to have a conversation. But we have to start that conversation with respect and the understanding that both average and intelligent people can look at the same situation and walk away with different opinions. The fact that we don’t come to the same conclusions does not make one of us stupid. It doesn’t mean we are incapable of “getting it”. It means only that we have a different point of view.
And that’s a concept I think we all need to get.