Yesterday evening my wife and I went to the cinema to see “The King’s Speech”. Now, neither of us are big cinema goers but I’ve been wanting to see this film ever since I first heard of it. My wife, more or less, came along for the sake of it. As we arrived, I went to buy the tickets while my wife looked at the notice board. We took our seats and my wife asked, if I’d read the commentary on the film adding, “I’m not sure, I’m going to like this”.
Well, she did and we did. But what she said had me intrigued so on the way out, I decided to take a quick look at what she’d read. To say the least, I was mildly surprised. The guy who’d written this critique didn’t seem to have understood the film, at all. In fact, his comments consisted of a string of (rhetorical) questions, leaving a very negative taste in my mouth. Here’s some of his fare:
“Who could understand a king having to give up his position merely because he wants to marry a divorced woman?”
“Why should so much time be given over to a king who, at that time, was nothing more than a figurehead and a bit-player in world events?”
“What could a modern audience gain from such an arcane series of events as related in the film?”
Now, each of us is entitled to his views and if the writer didn’t like the film and wants to tell us why, that’s fine by me, but the above questions give the impression that he didn’t really understand what he was watching.
To be fair, I have to say that he was French. Maybe it is a bit much to expect a Frenchman, born and bred in the republic to understand the quirks and vagaries of royalty. Although, my German born wife had no problem. But then, they haven’t been a republic quite as long.
What bothered me was not his failure to understand but his judging what he couldn’t understand. His judgements influenced people. They certainly coloured the way my wife felt about the film at the start. Maybe, some people stayed away as a result; he was writing in a respected cinematographic magazine.
But let me lay the stones aside for a while. Isn’t his a common reaction? How many times have I revealed my inability to understand through criticism?
“How could they act in that way…?”
“What on earth makes them do that…?3
“Why would you want to…?”
Instead of being valid criticisms, they merely reveal our inability to understand those around us. We all do it. Each of us as individuals and also collectively as a society. We can’t understand the strange customs and traditions of our foreign neighbours, so we judge. And our society seeks to limit the risk of contamination by excluding those with different values or by outlawing their practices. We do so because we don’t understand.
So, I’m not going to stop being critical. It’s a vital part of any relationship I can have with others. If I can’t say to my friend, I think you’re on the wrong path here and offer him my reasons, then there’s something wrong with our friendship. But I can only do this, once I’ve truly understood what lies behind his actions.
So when I don’t understand, I’m going to leave the stones on the ground and start listening, observing and questioning instead.