Tuesday, April 7, 2015

"We Don't Get It"

Like many of my suggestions, this one has its roots in snark.  Still, there is plenty of room for exploration, principally, I would think, of the limits of human perception and comprehension.  This is a simple phrase, perfectly normal in English, but somewhat lacking in context.  There are many ways to attack it, pun intended.  Basically, there are two words that are not perfectly clear without some context, and those are the words that really carry the weight while being irritatingly diffuse and vague: get and it.

"Get" is one of those unbearably useful English verbs that occurs in thousands of phrases and drives learners to distraction.  The various meanings are many, but in this structure there are really only two possible without a severe stretching of understanding.  The first is what is normally meant in this sort of phrase: understand.  We don't get it = we don't understand it.  Why would get be possible in this instance?  We are referring to the absorption of knowledge or information, that which could find a place inside our intellectual view of the world.  The data enters our minds and connects itself to the rest of our store of knowledge, adding to and complementing what we have already consumed.  We "get" this information in the sense that it is now part of us, we own it in some way.  It is almost something unquestionable and by rights within our power.  Since the phrase is negative, the information must be something out of our understanding, perhaps even impossible to understand, given the use of the present simple, which implies the habitual and universal truthfulness of the phrase.  There is some overlap with "receive", another more formal synonym of get, since the data must be received to be understood.  We also receive/get news, calls, gifts and acts that demonstrate feelings (e.g. get hugged/kissed/yelled at).  The casual phrase "Get this," implies both nuances, in that the listener is about the hear some information that the speaker hopes will be understood in the same way the speaker understands it.  As a question, a short question, "Get it?" is always connected to understanding.  It asks whether the object of the question has processed data to such an extent that it has integrated itself into the store of knowledge.  Although the verb get by itself has many other uses, in this context understand and receive are really the only ideas that fit.

The other weighty word is "it".  It - third person singular pronoun, impersonal, subject or object.  Like all pronouns, it takes the place of a noun when we are avoiding repetition or use of words that provoke strong emotions.  It is generally not used for people, only sometimes for babies that haven't quite shown a personality yet, so "it" is always an object or idea.  In English, as in other languages, "it" can function as a dummy subject when the verb has no clear actor, as in, "It's raining again," or "It's me," or even "It's a Magical World."   In the phrase in question, it is the object of the verb, that which is gotten or not.  The most probable interpretation is that it is some concept when get refers to understanding and an object when to get is to receive.  With no context at all, it is impossible to know what the pronoun is standing in for, but I would venture the guess that the most common replaced object is "the idea I am telling you about."

When we do not "get it" to the frustration of others, there are two possibilities at work: one, we are not attentive, learned, or intelligent enough to grasp the idea; two, the speaker is not communicating the idea effectively for any number of reasons.  The presence of one possibility does not preclude the presence of the other, in fact they are probably always working together to some extent.  Why is it so important to "get it" and have other people "get" us?  As human beings, we crave connections with other human beings.  We can create connections by sharing ideas and building mutual understanding of the world, fostering a common vision and interpretation of reality that creates emotional bonds between people and gives them a sense of community.  To not get it is to be excluded.  We can exclude ourselves by refusing to understand or admit explanations.  We can be excluded by opaque or nonsensical "explanations" or by the refusal to explain at all.  Getting it becomes the key to membership in the club, and being told dismissively, "You just don't get it," is the clubhouse door slamming in the hopeful candidate's face.  It works the other way as well.  Those in the club refuse to "get" new ideas because they do not need to, and new ideas bring complications.  Who needs to expend the energy to modify a worldview?  Not us!  That new idea makes no sense, it is ridiculous, only a lunatic could have thought if it.  We don't get it.

What is clear is that nobody understands everything.  Too much information is within our grasp for us to be able to absorb it all completely, which leaves us with superficial understanding of the majority of topics.  Diving into a subject can unlock doors of perspective we never knew existed, although others were perfectly aware of it, which makes every learned idea the entry fee to a new "club".  The best we can do is keep an open mind, without rejecting shifts in worldview out of hand.  At the same time, we must keep our thoughts orderly, since jumbled understanding is as good as not getting it at all.

No comments:

Post a Comment