It’s All in the Interpretation, Right?

Over the weekend, I had a text conversation with someone that didn’t go so well. There was some frustration on both sides, and I think the texts were read with that filter in place. She “read me wrong,” and I’m pretty sure I did the same with her. (Not all that uncommon in the world of texting.)

It’s all in the interpretation, isn’t it?

That’s why, ultimately, if you receive something with what could be the wrong filter, it’s best to be open to explanation and give grace. But then there’s that whole imperfect being thing we’ve pretty much all got going on.

So often we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear.


texting via Josh Felise


I remember how when I was a student in school studying poetry or a novel, I tried hard to make sure I knew the “right” interpretation (at least what we were told was the right one). It bothered me if I couldn’t see “it” myself. What was I doing wrong?

People who are so certain of what an author is saying have always irritated me. It’s one thing to say, “I think what the author means is…” and an entirely different thing to say, “Clearly, what the author is saying is…” Ugh. Yuck.

I guess that’s why when I taught I decided to illustrate how interpretations—particularly in literature and art—could be different…and valid. I took a poem I had written in college (I’m sure it was STUNNING), didn’t tell the students I wrote it, and then had them read it and share their interpretations.

I loved hearing their takes on it. Some were nowhere near close to my intention as the author but were absolutely cool. Some were very meaningful. All of them were interesting. Rarely were they “right.” After all the sharing was done, I revealed that I was the author. Some were nervous because they thought I might not like what they had to say about it, but I assured them that I loved it all. (I did. How often does a writer get a chance to hear honest, unfiltered, unbiased feedback…live?)

I then shared with them what my intent was when I wrote it, and there was lots of head nodding—but still a few who weren’t sold on it. “I don’t know…I still think it means ____.” I loved it!

Of course, in the end, the moral of my “story” was how we each had a reaction to the poem that was personal and valid. While it might not have been what I intended to convey when I wrote it, what they got out of it was still an experience of their own. How you read or look at something is your experience with the work—a relationship of sorts. For me, it’s fine that they vary.


phone via Pavan Trikutam


When it comes to communication between people, though, these variations can become problematic, as they did with my weekend text scenario.

“But that’s not what I meant!” is something likely said in many (many) arguments. I sure know it pops up in mine. Ask my husband. After some more talk, though, it’s likely you’ll hear something along the lines of, “Now that you understand what I meant, will you let go of what you think I meant?”

Isn’t being genuinely understood the true goal of communication?

Word nerd that I am, I looked up the etymology of communication and thought that it was pretty cool that part of its origin is from the Latin “communicare…to share…join…unite.”


Caring enough to understand one another. I really like that.

Turns out that it’s not quite all in the interpretation after all, now is it?

Well, it is if it remains a one-way street, filters remain stubbornly in place, or…you don’t care.

But when you make it a two-way street with a big stop sign at Grace, it’s not just interpretation but real communication. Commun-I-care.

And that road leads straight to Understanding…a place where I’d be delighted to live forever.


 road via Kerrie DeFelice




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