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  • Walt Shakes

    Walt Shakes

    Walter Ude (@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter. He blogs at mymindsnaps.wordpress.com.

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Our first result as undergraduates had just been tacked on the board; my friend George got a grade he didn’t like (far from an F, thank goodness) and I got the grade every sane student likes! We walked silently back to the hostel, matching our thoughts to the rhythm of our steps in the sand. University had begun.

I told George not to worry about the grade. It was only the beginning. Too early to despair.

He looked at me (or did he squint? because this was a year before the glasses came to his face) and said, “Kelechi, you won’t understand.”

I didn’t say another word until we parted to our respective hostels. My head under the sun that day was in no state to remember how, in SS2, I was ranked 20th in a class of 30 persons, with an average that rolled in the dust; how I had pushed at the notice board to see that result and wished I hadn’t seen it when I did; how I studied with a choking anger the following term…

Later that year we would sit for the exam of African Philosophy and I would leave the hall knowing I might as well have submitted my answer sheet blank, and would excuse myself to go to the bank not just because I needed money but also because the road to the bank was lonely enough and I could cry codedly (just like I used to do in secondary school after every maths exam) because I was sure that I would re-sit philosophy the following session…

I’ve never been so glad to have an E.

So, I find it confusing when someone says “You won’t understand” in answer to a question about their wellbeing. And here are the whys.

discord 3The statement is presumptuous. It scores me before testing me to find out if I can help or not. How did George know I would not relate to his problem? Because he knew for a fact that I hadn’t been in a similar situation? Or that I hadn’t known anybody who had been through same? Or because I could not – anchored on my own experiences – draw parallels between his problem and an unpleasant phase I may have suffered in the past or at the time?

Two, the statement is reductive. It’s the kind of thing an adult says to a child inquiring about the mechanics of reproduction. This explains itself.

Three, drawing from the whys above, the statement is rather rude. It flings care back in the face of the carer. It’s not as if you will get it anyway so quit asking!

That said…

Sharing your problem with me or me sharing mine with you is not an obligation. In fact, I worry when a friend feels entitled to another friend’s confidences. It’s not a debt owed. Yet I suspect “You won’t understand” is an expression we sometimes use when we doubt the validity of our problems – in relation to who is listening. Something is bothering us but we feel it will sound silly if we voice is so we go, “Mtsch, you won’t understand.” We fail to realise that the fact that somebody else does not care about our story doesn’t make it any less true. No one has the right to tell you what should or shouldn’t be your problem. If they don’t understand you, go find someone else who will.

I also suspect that most of us say YWU in line with a tradition we were born into. Like what we with the popular expression, “I don’t blame you” when you actually blame the person!

I think the proper thing to do when you don’t feel like sharing a problem would be to politely decline – “Sorry I don’t want to talk about it” – and while we are in the moment, you may add, “Please, try and understand.” ■

Written by Kelechi Njoku

Leave a comment


  1. Hmmm…
    Sometimes, really, the other person wouldn’t understand.

    • anyibaba

       /  September 26, 2013

      Oh I agree, I wholeheartedly agree. That’s a phrase that is insulting and degrading

  2. Grace oruitemeka

     /  September 26, 2013

    U are ryt.. but smtyms d oda person “wunt undastnd” especially wn they cnt relate 2 hw u feel…

  3. U NO GO UNDASTAND *winks*

  4. Good one, Kelechi

  5. abikoye

     /  September 26, 2013

    I totally agree with this one

  6. chika

     /  September 27, 2013

    I agree with you, if I care enough to ask you, then by all means help me understand

  7. George. So the guy fail that course?
    Someone just said YWU to me and I thought it was alright. Guess it’s in our gene to accept it.

  8. Eketi understands.
    Eketi likes this.
    Most times, it’s just a language reflex. And sometimes, I cherish it when people tell me that. It means I can heave a sigh of relief and be exempted from the burden of care. Horrid, I know.

  9. Anyanya

     /  September 28, 2013

    I’ll try….to….understand….next time.

  10. The way i see it, YWU means there is so much history and the person may have to bring you up to speed before you get to the place of understanding. And sometimes, however they try, you may not understand because emotions may be involved and may not compute if looked at logically. Good article still Kels.


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