Written by Semaj Brown (editor; Tanya Terry)
Dear Beautiful People:
I was sipping tangerine tea and I just received anaha! Quite from nowhere it seemed to have plopped into my thoughts. This is the benefit a good hot brew. It can clear your mind so all manner of beauty can flood in, poems, what to cook for dinner, and answers to what I will write to you, the beautiful people. I cherish the day when we can gather and enjoy pot of tangerine tea together. Until then, we will be safe and taste the aroma even before our palate has opportunity to pucker at the sweet tartness.
Today I learned a valuable lesson about understanding and misunderstanding.
I learned to keep talking; do not retreat into your pain or their pain or anger or fear of being misunderstood. Expect to be misunderstood!
Try to remain open, if at first only a sliver to let light and the warmth of other ideas seep through; do not close off. To grasp this lesson enough to communicate it here, I had four very different experiences that helped me arrive at my moment of clarity.
These experiences taught me repair is possible when things appear broken. Actually, nothing was ever broken, illusions are all about. We either see or we do not see.
Circumstances stretched people beyond comfort zones. Stretching can hurt; stretching is sometimes painful, though it can be equally invigorating. If you are injured in the exact place you are asked to stretch, then quite naturally, resistance and recoiling will occur. But stretching is prescribed if wing length is to expand.
Each circumstance required participating parties to bend our brains in a manner that felt awkward and unfamiliar, and quite frankly unfair. Elongating our thoughts was like pulling scar tissue. To include other ideas that rub against your own idea of ‘Rightness” is tough business. There is this overbearing notion of staying true to ones-self, remaining loyal to one’s heart. But, what does that really mean? Is it an excuse to be stubborn? Hmmm
Inner clarity spoke, in between sips of warm tangerine, and said: Your heart does not require loyalty. Your heart is living pumping organ that grows with you. It breathes as we do, therefore expansion and contraction is not only allowed but necessary.
I learned there is too much emphasis placed on understanding. I realized in each scenario, I subconsciously fell into the seeking understanding trap. The fear of being misunderstood was palpable. Seeking understanding to the point of needing to clarify, expound, explain… is a frustrating exercise in futility. Of course, going forward, I will do my best to communicate, but without expectation of understanding. The expectation is respect.
Respect is enough. Understanding just may be a made up concept to chase, a distraction.
There is wonder in the lessons. The initial lesson presented with boomer generation white folk who I deeply care about. Encounter number two was with millennial generation Black folk who I cared about, then, a Native American First Nations man, and a close family member, who I love. I am the common denominator each scenario. There is no escaping me from me. Though at first I thought our gulf of differences were about identity politics or culture, I quickly realized it was not. This was about yours truly, Semaj, and I am sharing this because it may be also about some of you.
If my learned lesson can alert you to that invisible worm that bores into the souls of unsuspecting folks, I will throw the party and dance in celebration of the eradication of the Needing to be Understood Worm! We do not need to understand one another to respect one another. Really, and if you misunderstand this argument, or disagree, it is freeing for me, for you, to do so, even if I love you, like you, or if you are a family member, or if never met you. Yes! Please feel free to understand or misunderstand me.
It is true I am a puzzle, somewhat of a Jigsaw. Aren’t we all? And to know there is mystery all about us, in between us is freeing. One person’s misunderstanding is another person’s mystery. So what if “they” do not understand you? So what if “they” don’t “Get you.” Why should they?
Consider the differences: Different generations, different life experiences, different cultures, different genders, different religions, different education, different families, different mores, Different parentage, different orientations, heritage, and on and on, a universe of differences, and yet we are blown away, indignant to the moon when people do not understand us? There needs to be an adjustment in our unrealistic expectations, less frustration will be our constant state.
Our need for people to “Get Us” is dangerous in a tribal gone neurotic kinda away. I am sure social media helps to reinforce this imbalance. Understanding should not be a prerequisite to recognize humanity. My entire life was cultivated by beautiful people who cared deeply about me, while simultaneously not understanding me. I never ever had the expectation of being understood. This entire understanding notion is a recent adaptation. One I will not be keeping. I am banishing this needing to be understood worm forever. Worm you need to find a new host.
My family and community formed me with tenets grounded in respect and empathy, not understanding. I really do not think understanding was on our radar. Parents were never supposed to understand us, though they did learn from us. What would be the purpose of this life journey if we already understood? Respect and empathy generated acceptance, recognition of my humanity, my right to exist as I am. I try to impart that to others.
Upon reflection, I disagreed often with the community that nurtured me. Many times I felt outside of and in between ideologies of those who towed the cultural line. However, the community always, always agreed upon my indelible right to be, and supported and affirmed me WITHOUT understanding me at all. I know that to be the ultimate expression of love.
Perhaps we should be brave and go ahead and expect people to misunderstand us. Given our multitude of differences maybe that would be more logical and natural. Yes! Relax a bit, write a poem, and expect to be Misunderstood, Celebrate… be FREE!
Semaj Brown is Flint, Michigan’s First Poet Laureate She is the author of “Bleeding Fire! Tap the Eternal Spring of Regenerative Light”