Please don’t let me be mis­un­der­stood

The Covington News - - Opinion -

I’m just a soul whose in­ten­tions are good. Oh Lord, please don’t let me be mis­un­der­stood.

I’m not sure when it started, but I’ve caught my­self singing that 1965 hit by The An­i­mals of­ten while send­ing my weekly col­umn to the news­pa­per.

Un­less you’ve tried it, you don’t know how hard it is to de­liver a mean­ing­ful mes­sage in 750 words or less and not leave things open to gross mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion. Un­like a con­ver­sa­tion, there’s no chance to ex­plain. Your words are just out there.

Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind when peo­ple dis­agree with me. It’s a mea­sure of whether I’m do­ing my job. If no one holds a dif­fer­ent view, then I haven’t said any­thing worth say­ing. I’m wast­ing newsprint, ink and peo­ple’s time.

Mis­un­der­stand­ing can arise from dif­fer­ences in how the writer and reader in­ter­pret a par­tic­u­lar word or phrase. Other times, it’s a mat­ter of em­pha­sis, where a reader hangs on one point, while the colum­nist was try­ing to share per­spec­tive on some­thing else that ends up lost for that reader. The great­est dis­con­nects, though, are when we fil­ter words through as­sump­tions and pre­con­cep­tions about the writer and his/her mo­tives. Such mis­un­der­stand­ing is most frus­trat­ing, be­cause it leads to per­sonal at­tacks and de­bates of­ten un­re­lated to any­thing the colum­nist has writ­ten. These sit­u­a­tions are sel­dom pro­duc­tive.

I want to share a story from a lit­tle over a year ago. Most of you prob­a­bly re­mem­ber and/or know Nat Har­well. In my view, this par­tic­u­lar story speaks highly of Nat, so I hope he won’t mind me shar­ing.

As a colum­nist for this news­pa­per long be­fore I started con­tribut­ing weekly, Nat’s views were quite dif­fer­ent from mine. And, though I scanned his work from time to time, I didn’t rou­tinely read him.

One par­tic­u­lar Sun­day, his col­umn caught my eye. His words made me fu­ri­ous. Com­ment­ing on the on­go­ing “rails to trails” sit­u­a­tion, Nat made men­tion of a sign sup­port­ing trails be­ing in the mayor’s yard. At the time, my wife Kim, was still Cov­ing­ton’s mayor. And, my role as a lo­cal trail ad­vo­cate had cre­ated con­nec­tions in some folk’s minds that sim­ply were not there. My anger with Nat’s col­umn was be­cause:

A) there was not and never had been a sign in our yard,

B) I would never have asked Kim to al­low me to put up a sign and com­pro­mise her ob­jec­tiv­ity, and

C) Kim never would have agreed had I asked her to do so.

I had other con­cerns with the col­umn, but that was the gist of it.

I fired off my an­gry email to Nat and the ed­i­tors de­mand­ing a re- trac­tion. Nat re­sponded im­me­di­ately and was un­der­stand­ably a bit de­fen­sive, con­sid­er­ing my an­gry tone in the email. Throughout my Sun­day rou­tine, I seethed and plot­ted, craft­ing a let­ter to the ed­i­tor in my mind that would at­tack and de­mol­ish point-by-point ev­ery al­le­ga­tion in Nat’s col­umn. I would teach him a les­son.

That’s when a voice from some deeper and, thank­fully, wiser place spoke: “Call him.”

I re­al­ized Nat and I cast­ing barbs back and forth in print, try­ing to em­bar­rass and dis­credit one an­other, was the same old trap we were fall­ing into ev­ery­where in this community. And, in that mo­ment, I had a chance to do bet­ter.

So, I called him. I’ll be for­ever grate­ful that Nat im­me­di­ately in­vited me to come over and talk. I did. We sat in his den for close to two hours. We didn’t just talk about the col­umn, trails or our dif­fer­ences of opin­ion. We got to know each other. It was — as he later wrote and I whole­heart­edly agree — de­light­ful. Through sim- ple con­ver­sa­tion, we each re­al­ized the other guy was not so bad af­ter all.

We didn’t part mag­i­cally agree­ing on ev­ery­thing. But, we did leave un­der­stand­ing and re­spect­ing one an­other. We went be­yond the fa­mil­iar cop out of “agree­ing to dis­agree.” We left able to un­der­stand. I didn’t al­ways like ev­ery­thing he wrote af­ter that day, but I read it with in­ter­est. And, a few times, I emailed him to com­mend a par­tic­u­lar point he made. He’s writ­ten and called me with en­cour­age­ment also. It means a lot.

Like me, Nat was a soul whose in­ten­tions were good. He de­served to be un­der­stood. We all do. He and I took the road less trav­eled, and it made all the dif­fer­ence. Next chance you get, take the risk. Try some­thing dif­fer­ent. It’s the only shot we have at bet­ter out­comes.

MAU­RICE CARTER

COLUM­NIST

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