For many years, the words that often sunk my heart were: I don’t understand. Professionally, I needed readers to understand what I’d written. If readers didn’t understand what was interesting, or useful, or funny, or compelling about what I’d written, not only wouldn’t my stuff sell, but I would find myself faced with that lonesome death-thought that I ultimately lived in a universe of one, speaking in a language somehow unique to me. Better learn to enjoy your own company, I’d think, ‘cause it’s all you’ll ever have.
Personally, I also didn’t like being misunderstood. I was philosophically inclined, and often some Big And Important Idea would float across my mind. I hated when someone I loved did not see what was so big and important about these ideas. When this happened I fluctuated between shame for a geeky obsession with the trivial, and frustration that I’d found myself surrounded by such meat and potatoes pragmatists. Either way, I was alone in my interest.
It was good, then, that I stumbled into teaching. The classroom felt immediately friendly to me, this place where people came when they want to understand something. It didn’t take long for me to learn that the best students, the most useful students, the most interesting students, were the ones who understood the least. My usual explanations weren’t enough for them. There was something in my lesson I’d left out, something I’d taken for granted, something I assumed everyone already knew. I had to look at what I had come to teach as if it were the first time I’d seen it, had to see all of it, and learn how to describe what I’d never described before.
The world’s always a friendly place when I remember it’s a giant classroom. I may not get to sit at the front of it, but the teacher-student relationship remains the same. Understanding is not the end of loneliness, but simply the desire to understand. That desire is the bridge between one mind and another. Everyone, after all, is standing on their unique spot on the planet, seeing only what they can see at that moment. All our eyes combined could see the whole of life. Lacking that, we can always turn to another, and say, “Tell me what you see.”
If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com