On Understanding, or, Misunderstanding What You Read – (Prompted by a Discussion about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In)

(From Acts 8)
Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
“How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”


This is delicate. I’m going to make an accusation of some folks…

But, first, an admission. Let’s all admit this, shall we. It is possible to misunderstand a message.

Have you ever misunderstood a message – from a speech, a book, an article? If your answer is no, then you are…deluded. Misunderstanding messages is a constant possibility.

Sometimes, it is the messenger’s fault. He/she is not very clear. It is always the messenger’s job to communicate clearly!

Sometimes, we don’t understand because “we don’t know enough to even understand the point.” We’re too novice in a further-advanced world.

And, sometimes, our misunderstanding comes out of sheer “laziness.” We don’t read or listen carefully. We “think” we know what the speaker/author is saying, but our “too-quick” read makes us make faulty assumptions and interpretations.

And, sometimes, we misunderstood, because we have not read or heard for ourselves, and we are taking the word of others that “this is what this book/speech” had to say.

But, whatever the reason, it is possible to misunderstand a message.

Lean InI thought of this when I read this exchange on Lean In from Andrew Sullivan’s blog. This paragraph is from a reader, and in my opinion, firmly grasps what Sheryl Sandberg intended – what Sheryl Sandberg actually said. It is in response to people, in the opinion of the e-mailer,  who did not correctly grasp what Sheryl Sandberg actually said in Lean In. (Sullivan never identifies his “readers” when he quotes from their e-mails). From his blog:

A reader argues that our post was based on “a common misconception” about Lean In:
Sandberg doesn’t champion working over staying home. When she tells women to lean in, she’s not telling them to work: she’s saying that for as long as they choose to work, they shouldn’t have one foot already out the door because of what having a family might demand of them in the future. It’s a carpe diem message, and an argument against approaching your career with a defeatist attitude.

If you disagree with Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, that’s ok; that’s your “privilege” and “right.” But, it would be better to make sure you that are disagreeing with what Ms. Sandberg actually wrote, not what some people say she wrote. They may be wrong—they may have misunderstood.

(And, yes, I’ve misunderstood my share of messages through the years – and will probably do so again. So, this “warning’ is for me, as well as for others)…

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