“You Could Never Understand!”


One of the hallmarks of teenagers is the line “you could never understand,” hurled at their parents to make a clear distinction between their world and that of adults. I think it is appropriate at that age to try to carve out a niche for oneself that makes one stand apart from parents. However appropriate for teenagers, the stance seems to have seeped its way into American life. There it causes much unnecessary division because it cuts off conversation and sends people into opposing corners, ready for a fight.

It is true that my particular experiences limit my understanding of the experiences of many other people. For example, I have no idea what it would be like to be a man. Similarly, I have no idea how anyone could believe that Donald Trump was sent by God to save the United States. But if I just park myself in the corner marked “female Donald Trump opponent” and maintain that neither a man nor a Donald Trump supporter could ever understand me, I am stuck listening to my own limited thoughts.

One of my favorite books in recent years was written by Arlie Hochschild, a sociology professor at the University of California at Berkeley called Strangers In Their Own Land. Hochschild realized that she lived in a liberal “bubble” and had no understanding of conservative America. She set out to correct that by spending months really getting to know people in Louisiana whose views were polar opposites to her own. She wrote with compassion and concern about the world so different from her own. She was willing to get past the idea that she could never understand. So did they. It is a stance worth taking, particularly now as the American obsessive focus on self and slights at every turn threatens to drive us even further apart.


14 thoughts on ““You Could Never Understand!”

  1. What a great post! It’s not only true in America – one of the things which saddens me about posts I see on Facebook generally is the way in which diametrically opposed views can divide people. I was brought up to say ‘we’ll agree to differ’. I voted conservative in the last but one general elections and then voted ‘remain’ re. Brexit. This means I have a lot of socialist friends who are with me on Brexit but who would be horrified at my voting for the ‘right wing capitalists’ (it seemed the right thing at the time: I vote as I choose each time, not always for the same party). I don’t like Trump – nor Nigel Farage – but there are clearly people who think they are right, and they are as entitled to their opinions as I am to mine (I just worry about some of the policies these rather extreme politicians seem to endorse!).


    1. Sarah–thanks for your thoughtful response. I don’t know what happened to civil discourse. Of course much of social media is actually antisocial media, allowing cowards and bullies a chance to throw vicious words while hiding behind anonymity.


  2. I am always interested in intellectual exchange and dialogue. Unfortunately, it does not always happen. I shut down when there is screaming, yelling and finger pointing. I pride myself on being open to listening to opposing thoughts and then deciding for myself.


  3. I find the current political climate so disturbing I hardly know what to do. In principle I agree it’s important to try to see the other’s point of view. But I more or less avoid political discussion with those who I know feel strongly in the opposite direction. I still value the relationships but know we will not agree on certain things.


  4. I spent a lot of time reading and researching in my formative years. I felt that in the western society of the late 1960s, it was important to ‘choose a side’. Around the age of 17, I did just that, and have never wavered since. But I continue to read the arguments of the other side, just in case…
    Trying to reach a compromise with those holding completely opposite views (especially in politics) has never really worked for me. I cannot tolerate racism, antisemitism, or those who feel superior because of wealth, or circumstances of birth.
    Best wishes, Pete.


    1. I continued to reflect on this today. I have changed my views over the years, becoming more conservative in some, more liberal in others. Like you some things are not all right.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You don’t need to understand – don’t even need to listen (although tunnel vision has its own dangers…) but you do need to accept I have a right to hold a different opinion.
    I believe those bullies who try to browbeat and verbally abuse dissenters must secretly be afraid that they may, after all, have it wrong? Otherwise, why is it so important that no other opinion must exist?

    “You’re ruining my life!” was a common refrain in our house around the turn of the millenium


  6. She is a good sociologist! When I did sociology in college, we were taught to understand but not accept when studying cultures or belief systems different from our own. That said, I understand what led many people to believe the current Administration was a good idea, but I don’t agree with that decision.

    Rather than tackle their political decisions, however, I have developed a knack for tackling the underlying reasons. When I run into rednecks in person, I make it my business to discuss how racism, immigration and misogyny have a negative impact on people. I don’t point fingers at them or even label the side responsible for those ills by any name. I keep it general. Some people, sometimes, etc or I only mention the effect without naming any sources.

    It’s interesting to watch the expression on people’s faces. You can almost see them reliving some conversations they have had or revisiting some biases they have held on to. I ran into a guy by the name of Dusty last week who considered himself “a good ol redneck from Alabama.” We talked for about 2 hours while at a spa and I think he left a different man than before he walked in.

    Truth is that change could last for all of five minutes before he returns to the circle of friends that will provide convenient confirmation bias. Even so, I like to think he will remember some of what I said. I most certainly will remember his words.


    1. You and my daughter share a commitment to really listening across racial and cultural lines. That is the only way people get a glimpse of how other people experience life. Her book is an excellent example of what you did at the spa.


      1. I think when you’re from a multiracial/multicultural background it’s necessary, especially if you keep in contact with both sides. Is her book on Amazon? How can I get it?


  7. I meant the book by the Berkeley woman. My daughter never sits still long enough to write a book. Some day I will have to ghost write one for her. Do you follow her Instagram? I can send you an email if you don’t.


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