The other night I was talking to my 94 year old grandmother, and she was reflecting on this current political season and the violence in our country and in the world. She talked about how life was when she was younger, and how things recently seem to be getting worse instead of better. She talked about the historic election eight years ago with President Obama and the history that was made when Hillary Clinton secured the Democratic nomination.
But it wasn’t just a political talk, and honestly, it wasn’t much talk at all because my grandmother doesn’t say a lot. However, what she does say, I can sense her deeper thoughts. She hinted at some torn family relationships and hurt feelings, and I knew what she was “saying”. Felt it too.
Nothing we are experiencing is new. From racial profiling and police brutality to broken homes and destroyed relationships, people have been dealing with these issues as long as the people and entities have existed.
As the events play out, whether it is issues with the police or issues in the home, I watch. I observe people speaking out, standing up, and addressing the issues. I observe those not directly involved or affected speaking up too. And I also observe people expressing feelings, some shocking to me, that have maybe been suppressed. And many people saying and doing nothing at all. Again, I’m talking about lots of different situations.
I watch (and speak). I listen, and I feel. One word stands out for me as an issue in all the situations.
As a mid-schooler, I sang to Xscape’s Understanding on the radio. And I was feeling it too, “How can we communicate if you don’t hear what I say? What I need from you is understanding…”. They were talking about young, romantic love, but as an adult listening to the song, I recognize how applicable the words are to all relationships.
So why is so hard for people to understand other people’s feelings or point of view?
- They don’t listen. I mean really listen. In a situation where a person knows they are right, they often won’t even listen when you try to explain your position. Even if they can hear you, they may not hear you.
- They don’t like you (or group of people you represent). When people don’t like you, they often put everything you say and do through a negative filter. It’s hard to understand or try to understand a person you already dislike.
- They can’t relate. Unfortunately, or actually fortunately, everyone doesn’t go through everything. It’s great when people have similar experiences and can show genuine empathy, but oftentimes the people we want to understand have no idea how we feel because they can’t relate.
- They don’t care to understand. And in some cases, maybe for reasons 1-3, some people don’t even care to try to understand. They have their own lives and own agendas and little compassion for others.
Hurt is an understatement of how if feels when people you love or people who can do harm to you don’t understand you or your situation. You can’t control anyone else, and you can’t make anyone listen, like you, relate, or even care. But you can control you. And you can try to be a more understanding person. I’m crazy enough to believe that eventually the understanding will be returned to you.
Seek to understand over trying to be understood
Easier said than done, but let’s give it a try. So how can you can become a more understanding person?
- Listen. Whether you agree or not, listen with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t interrupt when they are explaining their feelings and respectfully state yours after you listen.
- Separate feelings from facts. Recognize that you don’t have to like someone or even what they did to have some level of understanding. Think about your reason for disliking the person and consider if those feelings keep you from even trying to see the facts.
- Put yourself in their shoes. Admit that you can’t relate and haven’t been through the experiences of the other person. Close your eyes and try, just try to imagine the other person’s situation. Think about what they have been through and think about how they may feel. You maybe can’t feel it, but you can at least try to see it from their point of view.
- Examine your heart. If you don’t care, ask yourself why you don’t care about the other person or their situation. Be curious. Ask questions (and listen) so that you can learn more about why they feel the way they feel. And if you still don’t care, just follow the Hippocratic Oath and first, do no harm.
Who do you want to understand you? Who will you try to understand?