When I was about 10 years old, my family and I were all at my grandparents house one Sunday afternoon for supper. My brother and sister and I were all up to the table eating, and my sister Lora said "who's feet am I touching?" Her question was met with various answers of "I dunno" and "not mine" and who knows what all else. I can only assume because she was sure she was touching someone's feet with her own, she repeated the question "who's feet am I touching!?" and got the same answers back.
My gma overheard this little conversation and sensing the frustration she said "well, who is she?" We all looked at her puzzled and said "who is who?" Gma, answering back: "whoever that is Lora asked about, who is she?" We had know idea what she was talking about and all of us answered back again with such brilliant things as "I dunno" "who is who" and "what she?" Gma finally said, "okay, who IS Rita McCutcheon???" If we were confused before, this just took it right over the top since we had no idea whatsoever, what in the world gma was talking about. Laughter began to come out of the other room, from some older family members who had heard this conversation and someone said "gma, Lora did not ask about Rita McCutcheon, she said "who's feet am I touching". Gma insisted that is not what she'd said, and demanded to know who Rita was, and at this point us kids were laughing (as were the adults) but holding back as best we could because gma was on a mission to discover who Rita really was. To this day, I could call her and say "gma, who is Rita McCutcheon?" and she'd likely answer back "Oh she was some friend of Lora's that she wanted to keep a secret". Just playing along of course, since she realized she had just heard wrong that day in the kitchen, and she eventually laughed along with us.
While that story is still funny to my family (and I recently told it to my kids who all found it quite entertaining), it's an excellent example of just how easy it is to misunderstand, and miscommunicate. Thankfully in this case, it was a humorous situation and no one was hurt. Except maybe poor Rita who, to this day, is still missing and unaccounted for.
When it's not so funny is when someone says something and is misunderstood, and the person who misunderstands refuses to accept that they have misunderstood. When that person becomes adamant that they heard correctly, then responds based on their misunderstanding in anger or defensiveness. If you've ever been on either side of a situation like this, you'll agree that it's definitely not funny.
Most of my life I have been very good(?) at of being the kind of person who says things that are taken the wrong way. When I was younger I used to put it off on others and excuse it away by saying such things as "well it's their fault, if they can't figure out what I'm saying it's their problem". As I began to grow up a bit I realized that no, it's not "their" problem it's mine, and my mission was to work much harder to say things in the best way, so as to avoid this problem as best as I can. I can tell you, its very hard work for people who are easily misunderstood, to try and be careful so as not to offend or incite anger. There are times when we actually forget that we're like this and have to deal with yet another misunderstanding. One good thing to come out of this however, is the fact that people like me know how easy it is for this to happen, so we have a tendency to try a bit harder to listen a little more closely to what people are saying, so that we don't ourselves misunderstand and respond in error, or anger, or whatever else. However, I often miss the mark on that one too, and I'm just as prone to misunderstanding someone else, as they are of me.
Its a strange type of personality quirk I suppose, and I also suppose most people don't ever really give this much thought, if it doesn't affect them personally, or doesn't affect anyone they are close to. I'm quite thankful that I have a handful of people in my life that, for whatever reason God saw fit to bring to pass, that don't misunderstand me, get my weird sense of humor, and do understand that other people tend to misread me quite a bit. Kevin likes to tease me sometimes by responding to something I've said with one eyebrow quizically raised and saying "well then, what are you implying with such a statement?"
When I was a new believer, I came across this verse of Scripture in my first trip through the book of James:
You can only imagine my delight at reading this. My first thought was, "this means ME!" Its a hard thing to be a person who is misunderstood a lot, so seeing a description of me in the Bible was a comforting thing. Many people might not 'get' me, but my God does, and I know this. What's more, the very next verse drives the point home as to what will not happen when we're slow to hear, quick to respond and quick to anger:
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19)
For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God (James 1:20)
Have you ever heard anyone say "you can't be the Holy Spirit in someone's life"? I have, and have heard it quite a bit. Sometimes it's directed at me, and other times it's just a statement that is arrived at through discussion on Christian communication. Its those times that its been directed at me that are the most convicting. Not taking the time to really listen to someone, not taking the time to consider words carefully when responding, and being quick to get angry, indignant, defensive or lose one's temper, does no good for that person whatsover. It doesn't correct them (if they're wrong to begin with), it doesn't edify them, or motivate them to good things - it only sets them up for a defensive response back to you.
This is just another reason I love the book of James. I have been saved by His grace for 14 years this April, and the words in James are just as applicable to my life right this minute, as they were the first day I read them years ago. The lessons in James are timeless and even though I know them, and know them to be true and right and good, I'm still learning them, and I still need to hear them over and over again.