You really don’t understand, do you?

I try to engage with people who have different ideas than I do. It’s important to challenge your own assumptions. Unfortunately, those discussions don’t always end well, and the sentence “you really don’t understand, do you?” is really the epitomy of such failed discussions. Let me explain why I think that.

Changing minds

A big red flag for the truth of a statement is how certain the maker of the statement is about it. Because certainty leads to tunnel vision, and unfortunately reality is usually more complicated than you’d like. So, doubt is good.

To that end, I feel that it’s good to look at contrary ideas. What do other people think about something, and why do they think that. Does that make sense? Is it based on facts? And, do they change their minds when faced with facts? Scientists used to doubt aerosol spread of Covid, but now most of them know better — yes, washing your hands isn’t as important as once thought, and masks are.

Unfortunately, human minds don’t like discord. A lot of people stick to beliefs despite facts proving them wrong. And when looking at contrary ideas, I sometimes can’t help myself and start to argue. I’ve already written a post about discussions on social media, and why that’s so horrible.

And that’s when “you really don’t understand, do you?” has been thrown at me, or it was thrown at others feet, like a gauntlet.

The thing is: this sentence usually completely disqualifies the user of it from any meaningful discussion. So, a small dissection.

Argumentum ad populum

First off, the statement informs the the other party that they are wrong.

The person saying (writing) this feels they are right. Not only are they right, they feel they have clearly explained why they are right. It is obvious. Anybody with a brain would understand. So, the receiver must be stupid. They’re not just pretending, they ‘really’ don’t get it. Everybody gets it but them.

In other words, the person saying “you really don’t understand, do you?” is clearly the superior person, and the person on the receiving end is clearly at fault. The discussion has run its course and the conclusion should be accepted.

Of course, like I wrote, nothing is ever certain. That goes for scientific things like how gravity works (yes, there are discussions about that). But, more so for non-scientific things. So, you can hardly claim the existence of a grand conspiracy to subjugate the whole of humanity by a very complicated plot that requires that millions of humans flawlessly execute a hoax without accidentally leaving proof of that hoax as ‘obvious’.

So while trying to imply superiority, this statement actually signals a desire to ‘win’ the argument by claiming that it’s general knowledge. And that is what is called a fallacy, an argumentum ad populum, in this case.

Social validation

Social media are supposedly about interaction with other people. But you’re not really engaging with people. You get a glimpse into other people’s lives, but only a glimpse they want you to see. So, mostly, social media are a way to share random information and to stroke one’s ego — or get depressed if that doesn’t work, or you’re piled on by jerks.

In that context “you really don’t understand, do you?” is a pretty loaded remark. Given how social media work, the person using it wanted to get social validation. But, they are not getting that validation. So, to expedite matters, they declare the argument won.

They are really showing that they did not really want to argue, and inadvertently put them down. The fault lies with that other person, who keeps arguing when they should be validating, agreeing with them. Of course, what should be agreed to might hurt groups of people. It could even lead to deaths, when it involves violating Covid restrictions, for example. Or gun control. Wrong ideas about that kill. That’s a pretty steep price for validation.

The statement also shows frustration. It says ‘you don’t understand’, but the subtext is ‘why are you not agreeing with me?’ That frustration might not even be related to the discussion. It’s often rooted in other things, from annoyance at Covid restrictions, imagined slights, or general discontent with one’s lot in life.

End of discussion

Regardless of the correctness of the statement, or what it implies, it kills any discussion. The person uttering it has disengaged from the discussion, and they don’t want to participate any more. However, they are also refusing to concede that the other has a point. They could walk away, or propose to agree to disagree. They don’t do that, though.

Instead, they attack. The statement shows they want to walk away without giving an inch. It also signals they are completely certain of their correctness, and they supposedly explained it to the point of general acceptance. However, that is never true. Nothing is universally accepted, and implying it is, frankly, makes the person saying it look stupid.

So, saying “you really don’t understand, do you?” both implies not having argued in good faith, not even having wanted an argument at all, and unwillingness to change one’s mind. Meaning: engaging with that person in that discussion is pointless, and engaging with them in any discussion is probably a bad idea.

In short

Never use“you really don’t understand, do you?” in a discussion, no matter how frustrated you may be, and walk away from people who do.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands