I’ve been thinking off and on about interpretation.
We all do a lot of interpreting. We do it and aren’t even aware that we are. We read something and we interpret what we perceive the author is saying. We watch a movie and we take away something, whether we watch it just for fun or whether we search for a deeper meaning, for what we think the message of the movie is.
We judge and interpret people. We read their movements and body language or their expressions. We are given impressions and we consciously or subconsciously interpret them.
When I speak or when I write something, I know exactly what the meaning behind my words is. The listener or reader takes it in, though, and processes it through the interpreter inside of them.
It has been interesting to me to notice how people can arrive at totally different ideas or meanings from the exact same sermon, book, speech, movie, or many other things.
Last summer, my husband and I discussed a movie and we had varied interpretations of it. We watched it at the exact same time. We watched it together. We sat beside each other.
Yet, we interpreted it through our own individual interpreters and we both had our own ideas and thoughts.
Another influence of interpretation is how well we know someone.
We were in conversation with several other people and I jokingly replied to something my husband said. He knew exactly what I meant. One of the others in the group commented and I realized they were interpreting my words in a completely different way. The interpretation made sense and I could see the interpretation, but it wasn’t at all what I was thinking when I made my reply.
Interesting, huh? I think so.
I noted this incident and thought about it later. I wonder how often I am misinterpreted and how often I misinterpret other people.
The conversation flowed on. It didn’t matter and it was a situation where I didn’t even try to correct or explain what I had really meant.
But, I had a couple of take-aways from this.
Number one, the closer we are to someone, the better we understand them. My husband is my best person and I can read and know a lot of what he is feeling or meaning quite easily. Yet, I still misinterpret, even though I know him well. Even in marriage, we will never completely know someone else. I think we will continue to keep growing and knowing each other better and better our whole married life. We are complex creatures created by an infinite God, in His image, and we can never grasp it all, in our finite selves.
Second thing~I think misinterpretation happens often. Just like the conversation I was in.
For one thing, we often don’t have opportunity to explain ourselves even if we do realize how the listener is interpreting. In polite conversation, the words flow on and subjects move and change. Many times it doesn’t matter that much, really.
Then, too, I think we don’t even know that our words have been misunderstood or that we, ourselves, have inaccurately processed something.
I remember a conversation several years ago between two women I was with. One of them mentioned a comment made to her by another women. She felt a little put off and taken aback by it. And I could see how it did seem rude. I knew the women who had made the comment and had known her longer than the other women had. Given this woman’s personality and mannerisms, I don’t think she meant at all to come across in a negative or better-than-you way. Yet, I could also totally see how it could’ve seemed that way to the listeners. I just happened to be in an in-between where I could view it from both sides.
I’ve also been the speaker or commenter of something and later thought about my words and the way I said something and wondered if it wasn’t fairly likely that I’d been misunderstood or if my words could’ve seemed rude or been taken in a way I wasn’t at all meaning. It is a sobering challenge and one that does not come with a simple solution.
I remember another conversation that happened a lot of years ago, but it’s stuck with me. One of the main reasons I’ve remembered it was because one of the women in the conversation, was willing to step forward and question what she thought she had heard. I’m glad she did. Otherwise she and I, to this day, would probably think the speaker was a little too free with her opinion!
In this case, the conversation involved post pregnancy and weight gain and losing-weight-that-was-gained and fitting into pre-pregnancy clothes. Normal mama conversations! I don’t even remember the exact comment, but one woman said something that sounded like she was saying that the friend she was conversing with, was bigger than another friend. I can remember thinking, “Um, I don’t think I would tell someone that.” The friend spoke up and questioned what she’d heard. Come to find out, the first women was referring to some clothes that were a larger size and it had absolutely nothing to do with the size of her friend and whether or not not she was bigger and smaller than someone else! But, when we first heard it, it really did come across in a way that seemed like she was saying, “You are bigger.” If the friend wouldn’t have asked for an explanation, not only would she have gone away with a very wrong interpretation and negative feelings to accompany it, I would have too.
I also contemplated this incident, because I’m not sure if it had been me in the friend’s place that I would’ve questioned the comment. I think I would’ve felt surprised about the comment and my nature would’ve been to process it, instead of questioning what was said.
Words and interpretations are mighty things, are they not?
And guess what?
They’re not going anywhere. Pretty sure conversation is here to stay!
As long as we live we’ll be dealing with both.
I long to grow in two areas.
I want to be less sensitive and grow into just being a whole person in Christ.
I want to grow in grace for others in my interpretations. I want to remove the log in my own eye and take my focus off the specks in other people’s eyes.
Both of these are my desires and I know God can grow me. Once again, I think it will be a life-long process and not necessarily easy.
Sadly, I don’t think I will wake up one morning and all selfishness and splinters and over-sensitivity will have nicely vanished from within.
That would be so convenient!!
Life is daily.
But my Father never sleeps He doesn’t grow tired. He’s good for every interpretation.
I’ll slip my hand in His and when words come my way that wound or leave me feeling weak and shaky, I’ll just squeeze tight. And when words escape my lips that would’ve been better left unsaid, He’ll squeeze tight and we’ll take the next step together.