A great deal is assumed about understanding as a solution to all kinds of conflicting problems among us. Understanding can create categories of awareness and can communicate information formerly not known about the intricacies of differences. However, understanding is often only a first step of solving relational problems. Understanding can open a doorway. The second step of actually knowing the heart of the other person is what allows real solution to some significant relational issues.
Understanding can open a doorway to solution, but actually knowing a person after understanding her or him is what moves us through the doorway into relationship. Knowing a person, the heart of a person, can eradicate categories, generalizations, and prejudices. Understanding cannot do that. Without really knowing the other person, understanding becomes a good that teaches people how to act, what to watch out for, even how not to be one’s true self. It can only introduce us to the potential for the best.
Understanding a person allows me to grasp the explanation of what has happened to bring someone to the place of their emotional view of life’s structure, of their thinking, and the reasons for their actions. Understanding allows me to create categories for where to place a person, and how to act towards them based upon my grasp of their categories. Often and tragically, it allows a person to think that change in a relationship has occurred, when ironically, it allows the person who now “understands” to avoid talking about a multitude of important relational truths.
Understanding can actually minimize the more authentic story of the heart of an individual. The story of the heart takes us away from explanation and categories into the bigger story anyone who is alive in heart can relate to on a personal level. Knowing a person means that she or he has shared the experiential story and the personal emotional, still-present-within experience of that story. In short, that means the story and the feelings that go with that story. If the person listening is alive in heart, that person will be able to relate because we (who can feel) all know life’s pain—the joy of a living hope and the ravaging heartbreak of it.
To share a very short story, I grew up in the world of addiction, with all of its categories and consequences that thankfully have become researched in depth and understood in many clarifying ways. The impact of addiction on the people addicted and those around them is well known. It sets up a person who grows up in it to become addicted, regardless of their intentions, otherwise, and that happens with a high probability—which included me. That creates an understanding of me to someone who understands, but that is not the story.
I have written about the story in The Perfect Loss in full, but for this writing, let me say that knowing the story of my heart around addiction versus knowing the categories is the difference between knowing about dying versus hearing about death. The story of the heart is about its breaking and its hope: barely clinging to hope in the daylight, learning how to fake presence, running from fear that increases fear, relief seeking, loneliness and aloneness, sorrow unaccounted and gut-wrenching sorrow felt but hidden, shame of tears, contempt towards feelings and needs, judgment towards self and others, terror of others’ anger, and heapings of toxic shame, all creating a mask that hides fear of rejection, being judged, or humiliated.
A person doesn’t have to come from the category of addiction to grasp the heart’s pain of living in a world of addiction. Anyone who is alive in heart on some level can relate to the few descriptions above of fear, loneliness, sadness, and insecurity around belonging or mattering. Only our shame towards our own pain can keep us from being able to relate.
We know someone, way beyond understanding them, when we know their story and the experience their heart—that is their hurt, sadness, loneliness, fear, anger, shame, guilt, and gladness. That story is everyone’s story; when we have care towards our own stories, we have true empathy in another’s story. We can say we know someone, care for someone, even develop intimacy, passion, and integrity with someone when the story of the heart and the feelings that go with it are shared.
Understanding is good; knowing someone is best.
Understanding is good; knowing someone is best. To keep the good from getting in the way of the best, we need to own our stories and seek out the stories of others. In as much, we can have a great deal more relationship, and the best solutions to very real life problems.