A simple sentence that is heard ever so often in international cooperation – when so many things are different from what we are used to.
But we can put the very many utterances of that simple sentence in two broad categories.
One is where “I don’t understand” actually means:
“I totally and utterly reject what you are saying/doing/thinking. It is totally clear to me that this way of doing/saying/thinking is sheer madness. Anyone in their right mind should be able to see this. Any sensible person should see that my own way of doing/saying/thinking makes much more sense. But I am far too polite (or timid) to say this so instead I say ‘I don’t understand’”.
The second group is more like:
”How interesting. Apparently you are doing/saying/thinking things in a way very different from my own. I believe you to be a sensible person making sense of the situation that you´re in. So I am really curious to find out more about what you mean and why it is that your way of doing/saying/thinking, which seems so strange to me, really makes sense to you.”
Asking which of the two approaches is the more constructive and productive way of engaging in international and intercultural cooperation, is of course obviously rhetorical.
So the more fascinating question is: “Why do we, while we should know better and actually do know better, still so often fall into this trap of “I don’t understand” in the sense of “I don’t buy this?”
A penny for your thoughts on this.