They Just Don’t Get It? Who’s “They”?

Over and over again, I have noticed that when someone says “ugh, they don’t get it” when talking about someone else it often means “I don’t want to explain it” or “If I explain it, you’ll probably still be too (fill in the blank) to understand.” In other words, “You just don’t get it” is an excuse not to partake in uncomfortable dialogue.

So when I heard that Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld, and other comedians have been staying away from college campuses because college audiences are “too sensitive,” I was disappointed. Sure, no one likes to be criticized, and a comedian can selectively choose their audiences—but by choosing not to perform in front of a challenging audience, comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld are attempting to ensure that they get the final word. Saying “no, I won’t come” ends the conversation.

I think that they don’t get how insulting that is. It belittles those young people on college campuses. It implies that the students are not worthy of dialogue.

Jerry Seinfeld gave an example to demonstrate his rationale for not performing in front of young audiences. It involved a conversation between his wife and his own daughter:

“I’ll give you an example,” Seinfeld said. “My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.’ You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words: ‘That’s racist’; ‘That’s sexist’; ‘That’s prejudiced.’ They don’t know what they’re talking about[1].’”

First of all, from what Mr. Seinfeld has shared here, there’s very little context. We don’t have an idea of where the conversation went after this brief exchange. Perhaps it was the start of a productive conversation about what “sexist” actually means. Perhaps there was a family discussion where Mr. Seinfeld and his wife asked their daughter to elaborate on what she meant when she used the term sexist. But he seems to be implying that his daughter was using the word because she had heard someone else use it; that she doesn’t really “get it.”

Young people shouldn’t be deprived of dialogue that can lead to the growth and development of both the adults and the young people involved. Our society and communities do not grow when people avoid conversation because they have no hope of being understood. Maybe someone “gets it,” maybe they don’t—but how will anyone’s understanding ever increase if we just avoid each other?

I am about to transition from my role at the ISJL to my next adventure. If I had to summarize my past six years here in Mississippi and at the ISJL, I would say the following: I had the great honor of partaking in honest dialogue that fostered greater understanding. The most powerful dialogues began with statements about my, or another person’s, inability to understand. I have learned that if I or another person can communicate a genuine desire to better understand, transformative dialogue can follow and greater understanding can ensue.

We may never arrive at a destination where we all “get” each other, but we can certainly grow from the journey. I have seen time and again that when people truly share a desire to be understood, that desire is powerful foundation for greater understanding. If nothing else, we can demonstrate a willingness and a determination to better understand one another and work cooperatively to address common concerns and issues.

I will never understand what it is like to be someone else, but as I prepare to exit my role as Director of Community Engagement, I know that I have certainly been transformed by what I have learned from people who were patient and willing to guide me. I am most grateful for the many people who have allowed me to grow in my understanding and I am confident that the Department of Community Engagement will grow in its capacity to encourage authentic and honest engagement and foster greater understanding.

I hope this will happen with some laughter, as well as serious conversations. I hope people will have tough talks. I hope comedians will return to campuses, and respond conversationally if “called out” by students. After all, when someone says about another person “ugh, they don’t get it…”, and ends the conversation before it even begins—everyone loses out on the dialogue and progress that could happen.

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/08/jerry-seinfeld-college-politically-correct-racism-sexism_n_7534978.html

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