Being misunderstood can make us feel small and impotent, yet that which makes us great can be born from being misunderstood.
I saw a rainbow the other day, just a small one in a garden sprinkler. Dark ugly things they are. I know their secret, their impossible core. OK, the dark ugly part is a memory, it’s the place inside me the rainbow doesn’t shine, a misunderstood place, except that the other day a rainbow did, blazed right through to the dark part. I finally understood the point of being misunderstood.
I received a week’s detention in high school because of rainbows. I’d filled an exercise book full of dozens of different raindrop shapes proving that the way a rainbow are supposed to work was impossible. Page after page I tried to reflect and refract light around a raindrop exactly like the science book said and all I could prove was that rainbows don’t exist. Yet every second day that summer a shower would mock me with another rainbow. My teacher hated the fact I was trying to work out how a rainbow worked, bugging him for answers, and who was I but a mere kid to imply the science text was wrong. He thought I was trying to make him look the fool so I was punished for this transgression, cutting words and the laughter of thirty other students. I wasn’t trying to mock my teacher; I just wanted to know how rainbows worked, why didn’t anyone else want to know?
I eventually worked them out a few years later and they aren’t impossible, just tricky things that don’t work quite like the books teach us.
It’s hard when you are misunderstood. We have all been there, said things too quickly with too little thought. Of course those who heard our words don’t want to understand our thoughts. We have all acted in a way we thought right and later judged with the full power of hindsight. Yet people judge our actions without trying to see the context behind the decisions. Sometimes we just see things in the world around us that fascinates us, something that most can’t or don’t want to see. We see the impossible and we want to know who, how, where or what. The search drives us, we question, we look harder, we bother those around us with endless details of the things we see. Of course those we bother don’t quite understand, or they don’t want to understand.
When your hasty words are repeated and dissected they become laced with shame. The blunt instruments the words once were are sharpened by those who heard them until thrown back with the intent to cut. When your actions are judged by the certainties of the past instead of our limited vision of the future then we are bludgeoned with the guilt of what we should have done instead of the “what ifs” we could see at the time. When what you see is misunderstood, when your vision of something impossible can’t be seen by others it cuts to the core of who we are. We are slowly taught to doubt the very fabric of what we see, even to the point we doubt ourselves. It dims the beauty of what we see and makes a dark and ugly place rainbows can’t shine.
Yet the lesson in being misunderstood is that it teaches us to fight. We cannot bear to be unheard, we cannot bear to be told our actions are wrong and we cannot bear to be told we are blind, that what we see is not there. The ego fights against being told it is irrelevant, that it doesn’t matter. So we fight. We learn that shame and judgment is a voice of fear and insecurity, and not our own voice at all. We learn that people know how we should be acting without those same people having ever had to be the actor in the spotlight. We learn that people are willingly blind because they would rather be comforted in featureless room than to see the impossible out a window. So we learn to fight. We learn to fight hard. Our voice matters. Our actions are important and the things we see are worth seeing, these beautiful impossible things.
So when you are misunderstood stand up and fight. You may not win every battle but one day you will. When hasty words are cut short don’t fall silent, fight. You never know, you could be the kid who failed English who one day writes because he fought his whole life to be heard. When your actions are judged by people who have never had to face you’re your battles, fight. Those holes in your shoes are your medals, medals not a lot of others have. You never know, one day you might be that nervous, shy and anxious guy who now knows how to dance because you fought to find your feet. When things that fascinate you are doubted, when all around you tell you that what you see is not there, fight. Argue with books, argue with teachers and never give in. You never know, one day you might end up looking to the night sky. People might think you weird for looking for rainbows in the dark but they don’t understand that a rainbow can be lit by a star as readily as the sun.
Authors Note: There is an astronomer’s instrument called a spectrograph, it’s used to see the rainbows in the stars. I use a lot of metaphors in my writing but not all of them are as figurative as you would think.
Photo: Getty Images
*A minstrel was a medieval European bard who performed songs whose lyrics told stories of distant places or of existing or imaginary historical events. Although minstrels created their own tales, often they would memorize and embellish the works of others. The Modern Minstrel observes the world around him and shares it with us as lyrical story. This series was inspired by Luke Davis, whose eye for story and ear for lyrical prose are featured here.
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