I Just Can’t Understand!

The Greek language is pretty hard to understand if you've never studied it.  Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net.

The Greek language is pretty hard to understand if you’ve never studied it.
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / freedigitalphotos.net.

You’ve heard people say it, I’m sure, about various things. “I just can’t understand how someone could…” and you can finish the rest, because this is a common phrase. When I hear that someone is not able to understand how someone else could or could not do something, my innards seize up, my fists clench, and I have to swallow that little bit of bile that just came up.

This post has been difficult to write, and not just because I’ve procrastinated about it for a month, at least. I have had three wonderful interactions about this subject lately. First, I read a post by https://momgoeson.wordpress.com/ about compassion, and then I had a very public conversation with my friend, @daiseydoesit on Twitter. Lastly, I held an open forum conversation on Twitter about this, and ended up with more (very thankfully) than I had bargained for. And I have been putting this off because I wanted to get it just right. Maybe it will not be, but I have to get it off my chest.

You see, “not understanding” can almost always be tied back to a lack of empathy and compassion.

I know that many of us, myself included, have a hard time seeing things from others’ points of view at times. This point, exactly, was made by more than one of my twitter friends who shared their thoughts on this subject. “People just don’t want to try to understand,” said one friend.

You don’t understand depression?  Well, can you understand cancer? Because both of these illnesses are caused by biological processes that not many of us understand. Physicians understand, but we commonfolk who aren’t privy to the innerconnectivity of chemistry and genetics of the human body will have a more difficult time making sense of the intricacies.

But let’s start here: Would you criticize a friend who had just been diagnosed with cancer?  Well, perhaps lung cancer. What about lung cancer, you ask. I answer to you that I know people who have lived well into their 90s, smoking like the chimney at a barbeque restaurant every day, with no lung cancer. I also know people who have been diagnosed in their 40s and have never smoked as much as a single puff during their lives. Perhaps you can understand that each of these people had a pre-determined disposition to lung cancer, and that no matter their behavior, their fate was sealed. Are either of these people responsible?

No? Why depression, then? Both cancer and depression are largely unpredictable and caused by processes beyond our control, so why would anyone choose to blame the person who had received that horrible diagnosis? My conversations on this conundrum invariably included someone saying how loved ones and friends were alienated from them. How could our family, of all people, not understand?

Everyone that you will ever meet is damaged in some way. Some of us are damaged by our families. Some of us are damaged by our friends. Some of us are damaged by our genetics. Instead of trying to figure out where the damage originated, why couldn’t we all just try a little compassion? Illness is illness, and sad for those affected or involved, no matter the origin.

I just can’t understand.

If you want to consider things you truly can’t understand, consider these:  the vastness of the universe; how you can both love and hate your child simultaneously; how your job can be so difficult, yet so rewarding.

How about if instead of saying that we can’t understand, we say, “I wonder why….” If you wonder, instead of immediately dismissing an idea, then perhaps you might come to understand. Being curious is our nature. We all want to know why.

Why is Misty depressed? Why can’t Karen just snap out of it?

We are all curious, and wondering “why” doesn’t hurt anyone. Saying that you don’t understand only tells us how closed your mind is. If you first ask why Karen can’t just snap out of it, then maybe you will have to consider the reasons, as well as her point of view. She might appreciate that, and you might appreciate her.

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