My song today is “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”. This song was written by Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott, and Sol Marcus for the singer and pianist Nina Simone, who recorded its first version in 1964. "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" has been covered by many artists, most notably by ‘The Animals’ whose blues-rock version of the song became a transatlantic hit in 1965.
My mother often told me as a child, “Billy, the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. At the time, immaturity and an absence of worldly wisdom prevented me from understanding this proverb. I found it hard to get my young head around the notion that I could not do right for doing wrong.
I have frequently wondered how often some person somewhere has heard the pitiful cry “No one understands me”? We all fall foul of not understanding others occasionally, as well as being misunderstood. Such is the destiny of any two individuals who deign to communicate with each other with the sole intention that their dialogue will result in an amicable meeting of minds.
I have previously mentioned the two brothers from the area of Huddersfield who fell out and did not speak to each other for over a decade after their father died, and yet they continued to live in the same farmhouse. They had stopped talking to each other for so long that neither brother was able to remember what had initially led to this long silence between them. This situation highlights the folly of allowing the misunderstanding of a moment to last a lifetime. Their situation also reminded me that the longest distance between two minds has always been one of misunderstanding.
As a Probation Officer for twenty-seven years, I encountered many people telling me that they were misunderstood and that their wife, husband, parent, children, girlfriend, boss, or some other significant person in their life “does not understand me.” I rarely accepted this statement at face value as they were really communicating to me (albeit unknowingly) that so and so ‘did not like them’ or ‘did not respect them’ or ‘did not accept their view’ or ‘did not love them’.
For over twenty-five years as a Probation Officer in West Yorkshire, I ran hundreds of groups in numerous community settings. I once recall one woman sharing her own experience with the group. She had fallen out with her friend because when she was short of money and needed a loan, she asked her friend who refused, without providing an explanation as to why she could not loan her the money.
The group initially tended to side with the disgruntled borrower, but after they had been put through several role-play scenarios that I presented them with, they were able to accept that being ‘appropriately assertive’ in one’s behaviour necessitates recognising the personal rights of each person. Such recognition gives anyone the right to make a request, but it also involves the right of the other person to refuse that request ‘with or without an explanation’.
I pointed out there are many occasions when personal circumstances and private details prevent an explanation from being provided, and while it may be easier to accept a refusal to one’s request, does not mean it is desirable or appropriate to explain the reasons behind one’s refusal.
Some people find it extremely difficult to understand that ‘personal rights’ involves both people in the situation and is never a ‘one-way street’. Most people naturally expect a best friend to have a less personal right to decline your request than say another person you know well.
Imagine someone asking you for a loan of money, perhaps a friend. To refuse such a request without an explanation requires a high level of ‘appropriate assertion’ as a certain degree of discomfort is created. Nine out of ten people who do not believe in loaning money to be always helpful to the borrower will invariably make up some excuse which cannot be easily discredited like saying “I’m so sorry, I would if I could but ….” instead of telling the truth by saying “I’m sorry but I cannot because……..”
Providing an explanation is an ‘option’ for any ‘appropriately assertive’ person, not an ‘obligation’. The one role-plays which always worked to emphasise this dilemma was the following:
SITUATION/ RESPONSE: You and your workmate get paid every Friday. Every weekend, your workmate spends all his money and is flat broke until he is next paid the following Friday. You are careful with your money and try to spread it out to last the week. On Monday morning, your workmate asks you to loan him £5 until payday as he is broke. You loan him the money and he pays you back on Friday as soon as he receives his wage. On the following Monday, the same request for a £5 loan is made by your workmate again and you loan him the £5. He pays you back as promised on Friday when he receives his next wage. This same sequence of borrowing and repayment goes on month after month. You want to end it, Do you tell your workmate the next Friday he comes to repay his £5 loan, “I tell you what, Jack. You keep the £5. Consider it a gift from me, and if you stash it away until Monday next, you will be able to get through the week without needing to borrow again”?
SITUATION/RESPONSE: Do you point out to your workmate Jack when he next asks to borrow £5 until wage day, “I’m sorry, Jack, but I am not prepared to carry on loaning money to you every Monday morning. That £5 of mine that you keep borrowing from me is in your pocket as much as mine, so much, that it no longer seems to belong to me. Besides, I feel that I am not helping you to improve your own situation with my weekly loans, and it could be argued that I am preventing you from looking at your own problem situation. I do not know why you are skint every Monday morning as you earn the same wage as me, and we are both single with similar financial commitments. If you want to talk about your situation, I am always here to listen to you, but I will not loan money to you again as I am not helping you. I am simply making matters worse and I am prolonging an unsatisfactory situation”?
‘Being misunderstood’ is usually a situation where the communication between two people is neither ‘honest’ nor ‘appropriately assertive’. It is not always comfortable or easy to do the right thing, but if you hang on to the principle of recognising the personal rights of everyone in a situation, you will not go far wrong in your response.
Love and peace