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Which has pondered deeply whilst sitting on the NAPA judicial bench

If I Understand You Correctly

It is a truism men do not understand women. Whether or not women understand men is much less debated, though numerous men have been known to state their wives did not understand them. Discussion is also lacking on whether women understand other women. Teenagers are generally agreed their parents do not understand them. Parents generally feel they do. They also feel it does not particularly matter, since they are going to be the voice of authority regardless. Frequent quarrels arise over this, resulting in strained relations, literally and figuratively. All in all, the subject of who understands whom permits of further exploration. That I propose to attempt.

First, a possible explanation of why women are supposed to be able to understand men, while the reverse is assumed to be untrue. Omitting all qualifying adverbs, which can be a dangerous thing to do, women have smaller bones, smaller muscles, more instincts, more imagination, and less emotional control than men. All of these pluses and minuses make them creatures of mystery. Now mysteries are meant to be marveled at, not understood. Anyone who claims to understand a woman denies her this quality of mystery. That no woman will tolerate. The wise man, therefore, goes along with the truism. If he has private opinions to the contrary, he keeps them private.

A man, on the other hand, prefers to think of himself as straightforward and direct. He says what he means, and if any woman thinks he doesn’t, it is because she is thinking like a woman to whom devious ways are natural. In short, he is insulted if somebody claims inability to understand him. It is all right, however, for him to say his wife doesn’t understand him. What he means is she understands him only too well, but she doesn’t indulge him.

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In the matter of teenager versus adult, the teenager is not yet an adult, nor, it is to be hoped, a parent, which is a considerable handicap to him in understanding an adult parent. The adolescent knows where he is and what he is doing. He cannot conceive of a parent staying awake to worry about where said child is and what he is doing, or formulating rules on those points. He sees nothing illogical in his abrupt shift in moods from infantilism to maturity and back again; in his tastes in food, music, and entertainment; the jargon he speaks; his fondness for endless telephone conversations. He concludes parents who object to any or all of these things, do not understand him. And being possessed of emotions and muscles not yet sufficiently inhibited by foresight and self-control, he prefers to settle the misunderstanding with force.

The parent, on the other hand, entertains a false sense of security in the matter of understanding his child. This is his own flesh. Moreover, he has not only been an adolescent, he has survived it. All he has to do is relive a portion of his life, and harmony will be achieved. After a time he learns he is wrong.

This son of his inherited only half his genes, and they may not be the obvious ones. Memory is an imperfect tool, given to prying up what was never there, and hammering down into oblivion what was. Even total recall cannot superimpose the world of twenty-five years ago on today’s and get a perfect fit. The parent who desires to understand his offspring will find he reaches his goal faster once he gives up the idea there are any short cuts.

This brings us to the crux of the matter and an explanation of why nobody can be expected to understand anybody, regardless of sex, age, social economic background. People are individuals, complete with individual differences. With all the virtues and vices available to mankind, both absolute and shaded, an infinite number of combinations of characteristics is possible. For this reason it is highly improbable two people who are exactly alike will ever meet. Yet they are the only ones who, confronted with the like experience, could be expected to react in identical fashion, the only two who could be expected truly to understand one another. The rest of us just think we do, which can be aggravating; or wish we could, which can be helpful. Most people are not ungrateful for incomplete understanding, sympathetically offered.

Which raises a final point. Perhaps the best way to get along with people is not to understand them; but to accept them as they are. Not to abuse them. Not to excuse them. Not to try to change them. Just to find what is good and compatible in them, to enjoy it and forget the rest. Personally, I have no desire to be a psychiatrist, probing a man’s psyche until it is raw and screaming. I just want to be friends.

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Published now and then by Louise Lincoln and A. Walrus at Columbus, Ohio
and printed by Alf Babcock

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