On Being Misunderstood
What defines the human experience more: our capacity to judge or our desire to be freed from it?
What defines the human experience more: our capacity to judge or our desire to be freed from it? This might feel like a pedantic question, but we live at a time when conditions are ripe for judgment and misunderstanding: we’ve never been more accessible and visible to each other (via technology) but have known less about each other than right now. As the velocity of judgment circulates faster and faster, so too does our desire to be freed from it, to be understood when conditions lend themselves to being misunderstood. Take Simone Biles, who received a wide range of blame, judgment, and praise for her decision to withdraw from the Olympics. Or Jeff Bezos, who was the recipient of a similarly wide range of opinions about his decision to go to space and invest his wealth in Blue Origin. In both cases, extensive, animated theorizing went into deconstructing these individuals’ decisions and rendering remarkably strong opinions about what Biles or Bezos should have done. One theory for the reason why people write long, expository autobiographies is simply to be vindicated from all the ways the public misunderstood them (at 768 pages, Obama is only halfway (!) into a two-volume series on his decisions as president in A promised Land). Show me a long autobiography and I will show you an author who was misunderstood.
Personally, I’ve observed in myself that one of the biggest struggles in my leadership at Uncharted has been the times when I felt misunderstood. Over the years, the hardest decisions I’ve had to make have been the ones where I knew, by virtue of information asymmetries or confidentiality or something else, that I would be misunderstood. Whether we are misunderstanding or being misunderstood, I don’t know what to do about all of this other than to be graceful. There is grace in approaching someone with the humble curiosity of seeking out every obstacle in the way of our understanding, and there is grace in those private moments when we remind ourselves that despite being misunderstood, we did our best. The cohesion of our social movements, narratives, organizations, and communities depends on this grace.