Something that has bothered me for a long time, but I haven't really put words to it until recently is this. People want to be heard and listened to. But I believe that most people get the sense that the ones listening are the ones lying in wait to ambush. Like if you're minding your business doing your thing, and then you hear a rustle in the bushes - you go quiet. You don't want to give away your position, your advantage, or anything that you might have that could help you in what may happen next.
This is a great instinct for survival. It's just not a great mechanism in a relationship. We all share the responsibility of being in relationships in order to make the world a better place. There's roughly 7-8billion people in the world. We simply can't be friends with everyone, so we have to cut some people out and allow in proximity only the ones who we can trust, we can impact, and we can build with.
Now, that being said. Here's the part that bothers me. I remember coming form a particularly strict religious background. Even among my peers now, there's so much political tension that it mimics, if not directly mirrors, that same scenario from my religious background. And yes, I experience it from people on both sides of conversations around me. Someone will inevitably say,
"I don't see how a person could..."
Finish that sentence with whatever you like.
- believe in abortion
- want to destroy women's rights
- not see how they're hurting everyone
- kill themselves
- endure so much
- kill all those people without any remorse
...the list can go on.
After thinking about these things, my mind fills in the blanks. I end up saying something like,
"Well, I could understand why they would do it.
This is also one of the reasons why I was a terrible test taker because on multiple choice, I could add context to all of the answers and see a way in which they COULD satisfy the question as an answer. But, I digress.
That statement was often greeted with weird looks and gasps. It's almost as if I said, "I totally agree with this person." Just because you can understand something doesn't mean you necessarily have to agree with it or think it's right. I understand why the father took our his anger toward his ex-wife on the kids. That doesn't mean I agree with it. I understand why that father left his children fatherless to serve as a missionary in another country to help children unfortunate enough to not have a father. That doesn't mean I agree with it.
Man, the reaction I would get when I said I understood. It was like I announced I had COVID. This reaction has had me wondering if we're being led by fear. That reaction says, "I am shocked! I am afraid that if I listen long enough I might understand, too. Then - What if I agree with you?!" Well, understanding someone and agreeing with them are not bunkmates. One does not necessarily conclude the other, but the lack of understanding does in fact necessarily preclude agreement - so the knee jerk response to not understand or not want to betrays a fear to agree.
I might understand why this person or that person yells at people around them all the time. It doesn't mean I agree with them. I may understand why the mother abandoned her child. Doesn't mean I agree. I may understand why that father wants to leave. Doesn't mean I agree. I may understand why an abortion is wanted. Doesn't mean I agree. I may understand why abortion is not wanted. Doesn't mean I agree.
I think that inherent in any conversation is the trust that true understanding is being pursued. I think that it needs to be equally inherent in any conversation that understanding does not equate to agreement. It can lead to agreement. But understanding in and of itself is not agreement. This seems subtle and perhaps like splitting hairs to some, but I believe that it's a critical part of the process and deserves time spent scrutinizing and reflection in order to become better.
Once understanding has been reached. We can begin talking about the real conversation. "I want vs I don't want" - a negotiation of outcomes. We often fail to get to this stage because we engage in conversations in fear that understanding means I agree. We short circuit any potential for progress.
We must demonstrate understanding in order to move out of the understanding stage of a conversation and into negotiating. It cannot simply be, "I understand that." No, we must DEMONSTRATE understanding. If you can understand someone's circumstance, then state it back and both quantify and qualify it as valid in the conversation. Incorporate it into your statements and what follows. If you can't do this, nothing that comes after matters. If you can genuinely do this, you can actually negotiate.