You Don’t Get It

You don’t get it.

These four words make me cringe. They’re rife with intolerance and condescension. I’ve read them several times this week, sometimes aimed at me and sometimes at other groups. I’ve heard them in religious circles, including UU groups. Those four words have left my mouth as well, never with favorable results.

You don’t get it.

After a rather (surprisingly, to me) controversial post on my homeschooling blog, Quarks and Quirks, I received these words in my inbox. They were written by well-meaning mothers who carry somewhat different beliefs about parenting than I. They seemed to be written to shock me into understanding how fundamentally flawed my reasoning was. I could see the sad, disapproving look and slow shake of the head that accompanied the authors of the words. One writer added she was sorry I missed the bus, since not getting it didn’t seem to elicit enough contrition in me. I told her I’m enjoying my walk.

They don’t get it.

This week, I stumbled over that phrase while perusing some blogs and online articles.   I regularly take time to read what “the other side” is saying to their inner circles, with the intent to better understand their point of view. This can be a frustrating process, leading to frequent despair.  I try to keep an objective eye, looking for they “why” behind the opposing point of view. But that distance is hard to maintain when I trip over that phrase: They don’t get it. In both cases, the phrase was aimed at those for free choice, specifically at Catholics for Choice. Catholics for Choice a group of Catholics who believe issues of conscience (contraception, abortion, reproductive technology, etc) are just that — issues of conscience that are not to be dictated by hierarchy of the church. “They don’t get it” was written by pro-life Catholics, over and over, sometimes with the sad shake of the head tone and other times with scorn. I sadly shook my own head, befuddled that any group would use that belittling phrase to convert the opposition, especially when the opposition shares the same faith.

They don’t get it.

I’ve heard and read the phrase within Unitarian Universalist circles as well. We’re a varied group, welcoming all, so we say.  Given that commitment to radical inclusivity, I’m always surprised to find that rather condescending statement come forth. I’ve seen these words written and heard them said in print, in conversations, and from the pulpit. They’re object is varied, generally pointing out to other groups but occasionally aimed at others within our tiny movement who believe differently about God or the way things work. The former is condescending. The latter is divisive in an already-small group of people working to forward an agenda of love and tolerance. We can’t afford that, folks.

You don’t get it.

I’ve shouted that statement to my loved ones. It’s trite but true that too often those we hold closest see the worst of us. I’ve help up my hands in frustration as those words rolled off my lips to one of my unsuspecting children. I’ve watched their faces fall, full of confusion about what the “it” is while stinging from words I’d never throw at a stranger in the street. These have been moments about which I am not proud. They’ve occurred when I’ve felt panic about some issue that did not deserve panic and frantic that my point needed to be understood NOW. I’ve let out an unholy, “You don’t get it!” at the children I love beyond all reason. I leveled it at my ex-husband (and he to me) too many times, and while I generally feel less remorse at that, I don’t doubt that the attitude that accompanies those words was some part of our undoing.

You don’t get it.

Whether written in an online rant or spoken aloud to another passenger on our planet, this phrase creates a hierarchical relationship where there shouldn’t be one or expands the gaps that naturally are between us. Between people in a friendship or partnership or even between debaters over a hot topic, “You don’t get it,” assumes that the speaker is privy to superior truths the listener or reader does not hold. The statement assumes a universal “it”. Add to that an innate desire to be understood by others, and it’s no wonder those words come out in times of stress and conflict. Perhaps what would be more true would be to say, “You don’t get me,” but that’s just too painful often to say. We want to be gotten, to be understood. And we’re often lousy accepting when what we understand to be true isn’t what another holds as true.

They don’t get it.

While the statement in the singular is a skewer designed to single out an individual, in the plural it’s a blunt tool designed to unite those who are already united and deepen the divide between “us” and “them”. Its hierarchical nature occurs on a larger scale, creating levels of understanding of the world (ours being better than theirs) rather than just circles of understanding coexisting side by side. When plural, this statement is almost never seeking greater understanding by the “they” but rather bemoaning just how dumb/incompetent/misguided/lost “they” are. There are no hearts, minds, souls, or votes won with those four words.

Here’s how I see it.

It’s time for a change in language. If you want to be understood by those around you, if you want your (limited, subjective) point of view out for others to consider (and accept or reject), face a few facts and change your language. My “it” and your “it” aren’t universal. My version of “it” is just that –my version. If my “it” is my theology or philosophy, that doesn’t make “it” any more irrefutable or holy to anyone other than me. “It” is most often is subjective and often bound by time, location, and the ever-changeable mind. Rarely is the “it” in “You don’t get it,” an irrefutable fact (as in “You don’t get it! Your shirt is on fire! Act now or die!”). It’s almost always subjective in nature. Changing language when communication would help. Use those ever-helpful “I” statements. “I feel/think/believe…” put the focus on the subjectivity of the “it”, which is appropriate. It decreases the pulling of rank that happens with “They/you don’t get it.” Owning beliefs is fine. Foisting your beliefs on another isn’t.

And that’s how I see it. 

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3 thoughts on “You Don’t Get It

  1. Someone said “you don’t get it” to me in a small meeting last week – only they worded it differently. They said, “You didn’t understand a word I said” in a vehement tone of voice. What a difference it would have meant to my ability to understand her had she said “I don’t think I made myself clear. Let me try again.” As it was, I felt deminished and stupid – as if I hadn’t paid close enough attention. It was several minutes before I could gather myself again and re-join the conversation. It does matter what you say and how you say it.

  2. I’ve come to the conclusion that those who do not get “it”, do not really want to….even after I define “it” and how it is different from their “it”. When this happens, I let it go. There are others who actually do want to get it, and I do too. Then that is worthwhile.

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