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 contrary 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 they’re so horrible.

And that’s where “you really don’t understand, do you?” has been thrown at my feet, meant as an argument-ender, but it feels more like a gauntlet.

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

Argumentum ad populum

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

The person saying (writing) “you really don’t understand, do you?” feels they are right. Not only are they right, they feel they have already clearly explained why they are right. Or society at large has. It is obvious. Anybody with a brain would understand. So, the other must be stupid. They’re not just pretending, the other person ‘really’ doesn’t get it. Everybody gets it but the recipient.

In other words, the person saying “you really don’t understand, do you?” is clearly the superior party, 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 above, 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 it is ‘obvious’ that there exists 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 any of them accidentally leaving proof of their actions.

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 fact.

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 get piled on by jerks.

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

What they are really showing, is that they did not really want to argue in the first place, they wanted agreement, not argument. So, the fault must lie with that other person, who keeps arguing when they should be validating, agreeing with them. Unfortunately, what should be agreed to might hurt others. Agreeing could even lead to deaths, when it involves violating Covid restrictions, for example. Or gun control. Or racist crap. Validating wrong ideas can 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 meaningful discussion. The person uttering it has disengaged, 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’s a claim that they are completely correct, and they explained it to the point of general acceptance, or it is just common knowledge. End of discussion. Drop the mic. I win. Validate me!

However, this just isn’t 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 author/blogger from the Netherlands