We permit this kind of thing at our peril…
This start to a sentence, along with its non-identical twin – ‘I know you’ll understand…’ – rarely delivers good news and is, all too often, an attempt by the speaker to justify (and have you forgive or make excuses for) poor behaviour.
As someone with a reputation for being kind, a good listener, sympathetic (and, thus, to some, a carpet in human form) and understanding, I have had more than my fair share of such semantic blows.
I want to make a strong point this morning: By agreeing, by soothing, by ‘understanding’, we are giving the green light to insensitivity at best, outright abuse at worst. Worse: By allowing the transaction to go on to its inevitable next part (in which the betrayal is spelled out), we are enabling this kind of behaviour. By giving the other the benefit of the doubt, or by attributing our own, usually beneficent, motives to what is being said, we allow boundaries to be snapped – often with no comeback in later days, months or years.
What we need to recognise IMMEDIATELY with this kind of thing is that it is RHETORIC. It is a form of mind game. It is not, in any true sense of the word, an apology. By starting sentences in this way, the speaker is actually closing the gate to anger, to expressed sadness, to any true acknowledgment of the wound to be delivered. By agreeing that we do not mind, or that we do understand, we are choking off our right to fury, to an argument, to any kind of rejection of cruelty.
It is very difficult to throw an effective spear into the midst of such a starter, especially when it tends to be delivered in a reasonable, even caring, tone of voice.
So, sometimes, we just have to be cold and hard and unsympathetic and analyse what lies behind the honeyed words: Absolute determination, by the other person, to get his or her own way; complete inability to see anything wrong in the act of betrayal, the let-down, the covert unpleasantness which lies, like a vicious wasp, in the jar of honey.
I wonder if the deliverers of this kind of nonsense actually convince themselves that they are doing nothing wrong; that their egotistical need to get their own way is completely fair as long as they couch it in ‘civilised’ language? That those they are about to walk all over are so flattered by the apparent sweetness that they do not notice the heavy boots stamping down on fragile body parts…
The only way to put a stop to this approach is to recognise it for what it is and go in hard sooner rather than later – even if we end up stigmatised as unfeeling bitches, heartless sods or totally unsympathetic wazzocks.
‘No,’ we need to say, ‘I don’t understand.’
Or, ‘No, that is not all right…’
Eventually, we will have strengthened our own boundaries to such an extent that we are able to see, with utter clarity, what was always missing from the ‘conversation’: Any genuine apology or sense of wrong-doing on the part of the other. Because, mistake you not, these starters are inevitably an indication of a sense of superiority in the other, and an equal sense that we are inferior, to be used, nobodies whose main virtue is our understanding and our openness to abuse.
Asking nicely does not make it right. Hooking our understanding, by means fair or foul, does not make the shit delivered any less smelly and horrible. After all, if we express lack of understanding, or say it not okay, WE become the baddies, don’t we?
And that, frankly, says it all…