Misinterpretation is probably responsible for many conflicts, large and small. These conflicts range from personal conflicts to wars.
There are two main types of misinterpretation, intentional and non-intentional. Intentional is malicious, and can be used as a weapon to attack or discredit someone. Non-intentional is simply out of ignorance, they lack knowledge, or they are not very good at handling more details, also known as complexity.
How do we Interpret Things?
Firstly, what is interpretation? Interpretation is basically how we perceive the world, the objects, and the people within that world. There are multiple interpretations of events, objects, actions, and the words of others. Interpretation is proving to be a huge problem in the world of Artificial Intelligence and robotics. Building robots that can orientate themselves in the world is proving to be very difficult. Part of that difficulty is, as noted by philosophers and psychologists, that there are a near infinite number of interpretations of the world.
With all of the different possible interpretations, our brains need some kind of filtering system for us to be able to function. This is where projection, cognitive biases and distortions come into play. The less knowledge and understanding people have, the more they rely on biases and distortions. Religion also provides belief systems which influence interpretations.
Another shortcut our minds have is to use the interpretations of others to form their own views. People’s views get validated by others that share the same opinion or view. Also, the strong desire to conform, therefore avoid confrontation, and possible alienation, will influence their interpretations.
Projection, Ego & Interpretation
How we see and interpret the world is a reflection of ourselves projected out. Not only is it a reflection of our own character and personality traits, it’s also a reflection of our current level of knowledge and understanding. We can only see what we know and understand. If it’s outside of our current understandings, then it’s out of range of our perceptive ability. In other words, we can’t see it; it could also be called a mental blind spot.
Misinterpretation has been in part responsible for many conflicts in this world, large and small. Unfortunately, too many people are unable, or unwilling to see the complexity of our own realities. Once opinions are formed, they become entangled in the personal ego. This makes those views inflexible and rigid. To admit or even suggest misinterpretation is an insult to the ego (the individual).
An observation of this world is that too many people are too fast at making accusations, based off their own limited interpretations and simplifications. Also, note that misinterpretations are also sometimes done intentionally to attack others with opposing views.
A motivator for both intentional and non-intentional misinterpretation is the selfish desire to feel good about themselves, or to feel superior (narcissism). Another motivator that overlaps with the first reason is to be part of a group or tribe. Humans are tribal animals, always looking for a way to divide ourselves into a certain tribe. Sharing similar views, including political views, is just another form of tribalism.
Even this article could be misinterpreted. For example, suggesting that I am saying that there is no such thing as genuine evil acts, or prejudices, and that everything is a misinterpretation. That is not what I am saying, there are truly ignorant and weak-minded people. In fact, that is what motivated me to write this. Plus, there are also truly sadistic psychopaths.
This is why not jumping to conclusions, and thinking deeply and critically about things is so important, to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, unfortunately, “thinking is difficult, that is why most people judge”. Carl Jung.
Many of the serious and damaging accusations that get so casually thrown around these days are the result of intentional and non-intentional misinterpretations. It comes from one, or a combination of the following, maliciousness, a strategy to demonise those who have differing views, perhaps for personal gain, and/or a staggering amount of ignorance and arrogance.
These misinterpretations are also only possible by simplification, by removing details or nuances, again, either intentionally or non-intentionally.
“Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance”. Albert Maysles