Part of personal (and even spiritual) growth is learning how to understand people, how to see things from a perspective that you never would’ve looked through before, or how to put yourself in a drastically different person’s place (taking into account their personal history, and events in their life). I think if we’re attune to it, we can continue to grow in this way of being more and more capable of understanding others, but it certainly doesn’t come easily or even naturally to most of us.
We see life through our own lenses – and even though it may be a stretch to imagine, our own lenses are often clouded with certain judgments we’ve taken to be true over the entire course of our lives. So in trying to understand another person, it can be incredibly difficult depending on your differences in character, life experiences, religions, politics, or anything else that helps to define a person into who they are today.
Most of us are only worried about getting our own ideas across – ideas for fixing problems, things we believe are true, etc. to even conceive of trying to understand the other person (or group’s) position. I love Stephen Covey’s book that covers this topic, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, where he explains that you have to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Seeking to understand implies that one is desiring, hunting, and searchingfor the perspective of another person – when done correctly, it’s definitely not a passive objective.
It requires a lot of time and energy, and the reason why I believe this is also part of a person’s spiritual growth is because, as Covey points out, to seek to first understand another person requires a large amount of consideration of your behalf. Thinking of another carefully, taking the time out of your schedule or busy life to consider another’s feelings, is all part of personal or spiritual growth because it is a form of selfless love – the very opposite of selfishness. Yet if we ever want to develop really strong, long-lasting friendships and relationships, we must be able to seek first to understand others.
Seeking to understand another doesn’t mean instant harmony or even agreement, however, it opens the door for non-judgmental discussion and dialogue.
“Because you really listen, you become influenceable. And being influenceable is the key to influencing others.”
“And watch what happens to you. The more deeply you understand other people, the more you will appreciate them, the more reverent you will feel about them.
To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground.”
(Quotes from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey, 1989)