I Understand …

Do You?

JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

30 April 2020




1. perceive the intended meaning of

2. interpret or view (something) in a particular way.

The definition of understanding includes the words perceive and intended. If we understand one another, it doesn’t mean we have the same opinions. It merely means we’re aware of the way the other has chosen to process certain information. And the contrary is true as well. If we can’t understand one another, it means one of us can’t fathom how the other processes certain information.

Not everyone will understand.

We’re human. We’re complex beings made up of different experiences, driven by our brains’ generalizations and our limited range of knowledge. The way we process information is varied and complex. We will not understand everyone, and everyone will not understand us. It doesn’t mean we’re wrong. It also doesn’t mean we’re right. We may have too much information in some situations. In others, we may have too little. Or maybe it just means we’re different.

With information available so readily at our fingertips, it’s easy to think we’re always right. And to extend that notion a bit, it’s just as easy to think folks who disagree with us are wrong. It’s especially true when we surround ourselves with people who have similar experiences, generalizations, knowledge, and cognitive biases. Those friends (and family) stroke our egos and tell us we’re right. And if we’re right … you guessed it … others must be wrong.

But by the same token, if others don’t understand us, it doesn’t mean our views are unimportant or incorrect.

I have young children. When I tell them to put on shoes and a jacket before they go outside, they get frustrated. I understand they want to go outside immediately, and they’re being delayed. And they understand – after going outside – that 42 degrees and windy is cold, and they did indeed need shoes and a jacket. We may not understand each other instantly. The understanding might come later, after a specific experience or influx of knowledge.

Good … Or Bad?

In the grand scheme of things, notions of right and wrong are rarely as polarized as they may seem. We’re not living in Gotham City. Humanity isn’t as immediately recognizable as Batman or The Joker, bad or good, right or wrong – even though we’re raised to believe those kinds of black-and-white concepts.

Good people may have terrible skeletons in their closets. The reverse is true as well: most bad people have done many good things in their lives. And their justifications for the bad things they’ve done may weigh out appropriately in their minds. A person may be capable of acting terribly toward one person and kind and generous to many others. Does their kindness in one situation negate their indecency in others?

Understanding is perceiving someone else’s intended meaning. Understanding someone doesn’t create right or wrong contexts. But it does help us to realize each other’s humanity. And at a time like this, we need understanding more than ever. It may seem easier to assign right or wrong labels to others who think like us, or unlike us. But in a way, we must remember, we’re all right and we’re all wrong.

Let’s experience our experiences. Seek the knowledge we need to process our situations. And listen to each other. We’re in this together.