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“It was the in-between time, before day leaves and night comes, a time I’ve never been partial to because of the sadness that lingers in the space between going and coming.”

——

Sue Monk Kidd

—— 

“Ambiguity of language is philosophy’s main source of problems.

That is why it is of the utmost importance to examine attentively the very words we use.”  

Giuseppe Peano

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Fear of being misunderstood. If you type that into google you get about 159,000,000 results in 0.42 seconds and only one, yes, one result is about the version I am talking about. The version today is not being misunderstood as a person, but, literally, not being understood when speaking or communicating something. That said. I did find the term ambiguphobia which is applied to the pathological fear of being misunderstood. It has the same word root as “ambiguous.”

Ambiguity.

If you elect to believe the world is often ambiguous, complex not simple, that cause & effect (98% of the time) is nonexistent, and truth is more often conditional not absolute, you are doomed to have a fear of being misunderstood. This fear may be constant or intermittent or maybe even like a flux capacitor … but it exists in some form or fashion.

I thought about this after listening to a Jason Fox podcast where he kind of flippantly mentioned he had a fear of being misunderstood and read a piece he linked to at Ribbon Farm “The Tragicomic Exasperations of Expertise.”

Here is what I believe.

If you elect to believe the world is complex and simplicity is elusive, you spend a lot of time in the wretched hollow between:

 

Certainty versus uncertainty

Absolute truths versus contingent truths

Pragmatism versus dreams

Short term versus long term

Safety versus risk

Old beliefs versus new understandings

Fixed versus unfixed

Fluid versus solid

If you reside in the complex universe, you will find your cozy cottage resides in this windswept, stormy grassy hollow. And I would suggest you also spend a lot of time in the kitchen of the cottage mixing ingredients seeking the perfect potion to make the complex understood. I would also suggest this is the wretched hollow – continual experimentation of ingredients.

“<things> get better when exposed to external stressors and change.”

Dr. Jason Fox

That said. If you elect to believe the world is complex, let me suggest two thoughts for you to ponder about this wretched hollow in terms of ‘fear of being misunderstood’:

 

Wretched hollow version 1: where ideas go to die

If you have decided to reside in the complex universe, suffice it to say you have decided to be in the thinking & ideas business. While your skillset may have some aspects of ‘doing’ and results you have put a stake in the ground that progress is dependent upon people thinking about shit and in that thinking will better navigate a way toward success.

In other words you have inextricably linked thinking to progress. This is important because in this version of the wretched hollow this is where ideas go to die if you are misunderstood.

In other words. You are in the thinking and ideas business (a version of the ‘Progress Business’) and if you are not understood your thinking and ideas die. Uhm. No more business and certainly no progress (or at least your version of it).

This is a pragmatic fear of being misunderstood. The product you want to sell, not being understood, is not bought.

I will note here this is where I believe business people, experience, has an advantage over academics & thought leaders. In business if you cannot make uncertainty certain enough or the invisible esoteric thinking visible enough, you die. You become a superfluous thinker who doesn’t know how to get things done or, in general, no one knows what to do with what you say & think. You are simply mental masturbation.

 

Wretched hollow version 2: where ‘self’ goes to die

Doubt, Imposter Syndrome, confidence, even arrogance wander in this wretched hollow. Fear of being misunderstood haunts not just your ideas and thinking, but you. This is the world you have elected to be in. Others have chosen detail, you have chosen definitions (link).

By choosing the path of definitions, versus details, psychologically there is a constant tug of war between all of the things I just stated. Your only real contribution to the tug of war is to continuously eat up more & more knowledge in the attempt to put more weight on the positive side of the tug of war. Unfortunately knowledge weighs less, proportionately, than doubt/uncertainty, or even ignorance, so even as you become more smart, wiser, & better at articulating the Sumo wrestler sized doubts (the actual fear of being misunderstood) never lose any weight and keep tugging.

My point here is that electing to reside in the complex universe and making your business the business of thinking & ideas is a non-stop, never-ending tug of war. So. You are in the game or you are not. And if you are worth half a shit you will find that you never lose the tug of war, the other side just tugs a little harder on occasion. But. And this is a big but. The moment you stop pulling the fear of being misunderstood changes to death of the universe you have elected to live in and even the business you have elected to be in. I know that sounds harsh, but ‘self’ has some pretty dark places and if you give up the rope it is really really hard to not only climb back out of the darkness, but also get a new strong grip on the rope in the tug of war. Just ponder because even if you do not agree with me in totality on this point even at a lesser degree it has repercussions to fear of being misunderstood.

Let me end this version of wretched hollow by pointing out that if you have elected to make thinking & ideas your business, and you struggle to make people understand your thinking & ideas, you will inevitably start questioning the value & meaning you provide. Period. Full stop.

“Aiming at brevity, I become obscure.”

Horace

Lastly.

Mixing the formula.

That’s the deal, isn’t it? finding the right amount of certainty, tangible understanding, to freedom (uncertainty) ratio? It’s the proportionate amount of traction points (I call them lily pads of certainty) to provide structure to hold up the uncertain, freedom and adaptability of thinking, in people’s minds (leading to them actually doing something). That’s where the fear of being misunderstood centers itself – will I mix the right formula this time?

This is where Life gets tricky.

All people inherently need some successes or, well, you go into some pretty dark places. So your natural instincts arc toward ‘being understood.’ That means offering up simplicity, maybe some tasty soundbites and, often, some fairly vapid generalizations attempting to tap into some common perceptions. That means you incrementally shave away at complexity which, inherently, shaves away truths and impact/effectiveness. That means while you have elected to reside in the universe of complexity you are selling out the value of that universe (I would argue that diminishes self but that’s not my point today).

I will say (part 1) the people in this space with the most success not only constantly gain knowledge but use it in a ‘play, pause, rewind, fast forward’ way. What I mean by that is the formula cannot be rushed and neither can complexity understanding be completed in a formulaic way. In other words it not only takes an ability to assemble the right fragments but do so with pacing to engage cognitively.

Be still amidst the chaos and active in repose.”

Indira Ghandi

I will say (part 2) that the tricksters, and ignorant, who casually ease round simplistic pegs into uneven hexagon complex holes exponentially outnumber the experts. And you know what? People, in general, like round pegs.  Smooth, simple and easy to grasp. This does not mean people are stupid just that tricksters are masters of the illusion, and delusion, of progress and the doyens of detail. In general, they thrive on detail cloaked in fortune cookie wisdom. It’s simplistic, not simple.

And maybe that is where I should end. The fear of being misunderstood is really about knowing, in your heart of hearts, you have chosen the rockier path as two roads diverge and, well:

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Fear of being misunderstood is all about fear of choices – have I made the right one, or ones, and in doing so have I made myself clear of why the roads are what the roads are and why as they diverge we should walk on this one today.

Fear of being misunderstood is all about making the choice to making the complex understood.

Fear of being misunderstood is all about the choice that progress is actually made through the complex rather than simplicity.

Fear of being misunderstood is all about fear people do not understand the choice you made.

Regardless. There is a positive side.

Progress is not a linear process. Mastering complexity or at least wrangling complexity insures not only progress, but antifragile progress and progress with value. I will never suggest fear is a good thing, but I will say that when you get it right, when you share the thinking and ideas and it is understood, and your fear of being misunderstood is absolved for at least that moment – it is a great feeling. And it’s a great feeling not because you have been understood, but rather because by being understood energy has been created, or traction provided, for progress to occur.

 

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Written by Bruce