Full disclosure: I do not always understand another person’s point of view, and, people do not always understand my point of view. In fact I would characterize a large part of 2013 to early 2014 as working through “misunderstanding” with persons with whom we never successfully reached understanding.
It is my hypothesis that if we truly understood each other, we’d be in the best position to be able to solve any issues we come to. Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to test that hypothesis; issues were left unsolved, and I was blamed for the impasse.
Nevertheless, I am committed to doing the homework of understanding, the long hours, the deep reflections and creative perspective-taking in the hopes that if I at least understand another person, then “we’re half way there” so to speak. Of course, one doesn’t (can’t) do this with everyone: it is too expensive. But this is what I was doing with people I valued, for a cause I cared for, and in a setting that seemed fitting for resolution. None came.
I now sit at a safe temporal distance from that period, but I am still focussed on wanting to understanding – especially in marriage. I recently re-read Tournier’s little book, To Understand Each Other. Here are some of the main headings and supporting quotes from it:
To achieve Understanding, we need to want it.
“Marriage is a ‘work of art’… what really counts, then, is the working out together of marital happiness. It is a goal to strive after, not a privilege gained at the outset. And to work it out, the ability to understand each other is essential.”
To achieve Understanding, we need to express ourselves.
“Each of us easily finds cause for avoiding real encounter… The fact is that many married people flee from it; they are afraid of opening up in depth. They do not take the time which is necessary for it.”
To achieve Understanding, we need courage.
“What is this fear? First, there is the fear of being judged, the fear of criticism… The “I cannot understand” really means “I cannot understand that my [spouse] is different from me, that he/she thinks, feels, and acts in a quite different manner than I. So the [spouse] feels judged, condemned, criticized.”
“The second [fear] is that of receiving advice”… where one must endure “a shower of inapplicable counsels” in which the spouse “does not realize the complexity of the problems… Now the spouse receiving the advice withdraws. A man will sooner take the daily blows from his work than another from his wife.”
To achieve Understanding, we need love.
“A man [spouse?] needs to feel very deeply loved in order to share an intimate secret charged with emotion… The partner who has thus spoken in a very personal way without being understood falls back into a terrible emotional solitude… It is impossible to overemphasize the immense need to be really listened to, to be taken seriously, to be understood.”
“Here is an even greater mystery: no one comes to know themselves through introspection, or in the solitude of one’s personal diary. Rather, it is in dialogue, in meeting with other persons… Marriage then becomes a great adventure.”
To achieve Understanding, we need to accept our natural differences.
“By failure in understanding, each is in danger of ignoring the other’s needs, and especially of not realizing their tremendous importance to the other… People so very different by nature are nevertheless made to complement each other, that through each other they may discover so much of what they’ve not known or sensed before.”
In order to Understand, we need to grasp the importance of the Past.
“Once having the priceless experience of mutual understanding, the desire for even better understanding grows. More than that: nothing helps us to open up quite as much as sensing in our life partner the desire to understand.”
Why I am committed to doing the work of understanding.
I love Jesus’ examples of understanding where people are at. Whether he’s crouching down on the dirt with the Woman caught in sin (John 8), or having supper with chief tax collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19); whether it’s the woman who wants to anonymously touch the hem of his garments to be healed (Luke 7), or the rich young ruler (Luke 18), Jesus looks, He sees, and He fully understands. It is the kindness of His understanding that attracts us to Him, and inspires any of our ability to even “want to understand each other,” as Tournier began. This is the mysterious beginning to the spiritual life – surely this is more enigma than dogma.
I leave you with David Augsberger’s poem from Caring Enough to Confront.
I want to hear you, see what you see, feel what you feel.
I want to be heard. Hear me as I hear you, Listen, I’m listening to you.
So I will speak simply, with clear word windows, that let you see all the way in to where I live, laugh and cry.