“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” –Mahatma Gandhi
This is yet another word that relates to the work I do in not only conflict resolution but also intercultural communication. This is yet another word with lots of different connotations. On the one hand understanding is simple comprehension. On the other, however, it implies an awareness of feelings and a tolerance of others. On another note, it is also used to connote insight and good judgement.
With regard to comprehension the solution should be simple: pay attention to the words that are spoken. Yet, with regard to awareness and tolerance, understanding reveals a relational aspect. To really understand indicates that we “get it”, that we are aware of what is being said or done. The tolerance part of understanding is questionable. How often have you heard people say, “I understand, but I don’t agree.”
Understanding is the first step, though, in finding a way back to a relationship that is broken due to conflict. It is the one thing, also, that people feel is lost when in the middle of a conflict. How many times have I heard my husband tell me, “I get it. I understand what you are saying,” but I felt, “Hey, you don’t get me at all!”
So, understanding needs agreement, then? It can’t be one person saying, “I understand,” and the other saying, “No you don’t!” Understanding implies both people in a communication agree that understanding has been reached. This is the most important part of understanding. Being able to agree that there is a true awareness that is supported by the other person’s agreement that “you got me”. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, but the miracle of real understanding where agreement is reached is that then tolerance is reached. When I see two people in a conflict conversation suddenly shift their perspective towards understanding, I watch them agree to disagree. I watch them willing to understand the perspective of the other and become empowered to say, “I get it. It may not be something I want to agree with, but because I now understand, I can honor your perspective as well as my own.”
So, that brings us to the final definition of understanding: insight and good judgment. When understanding is reached, especially in the midst of a conflict, that shift or change leads towards a recognition and “insight” that really does change the way we communicate with each other. The amazing thing to me is that we get along and love so many people who are different from us. The secret ingredient to those successful relationships is understanding.
In intercultural communication understanding is the key towards being able to build effective relationships across cultures. Cultural differences in understanding include different values, beliefs, and perceptions that challenge communication. Assuming we understand the other is a mistake many people make when living and working in other cultures. The “ah-ha” moment comes when we suddenly realize a difference that has perplexed us. Once we reach an understanding of the different perspective or way of being in the world, we generally find it easier and more enjoyable to build closer relationships. This, again, brings new insight moments as we truly reach an understanding.
I think I am in love with this word! I love that it has so many nuances and ways to discover! Reaching understanding seems like a true gift!
So, this word of the day is coming a day later. But, can understanding ever really come too late?
The image at the top of the page reminded me of understanding in the intimacy of the puppies. That connection and need are a part of understanding to me. The image is a painting by Tricia Calvert. You can see more of her images on Instagram.
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