After a fruitless attempt to try to explain myself to someone, my buddy Google and I sat around for a couple hours delving in to the realms of introspection. As an introvert, I spend a lot of time in my head, and it can be easy to dig myself in to rumination holes. At this moment, I found myself ruminating on the concepts of knowledge versus understanding. There's a Buddhist saying “Understanding is deeper than knowledge. There are many people who know you, but very few who understand you.” I found this to be a catalyst in my own self awareness, my ability to understand where others are coming from, and gain perspectives other than my own.
So, what is the difference between knowing someone and understanding them?
“Knowing” and “understanding” are similar but are not the same. Knowing is fixed, whereas understanding is active. I think most of us know each other more than we will ever understand each other. There are also things we will never fully understand. I would like to think that the stark difference between the two, is that understanding comes from a place of empathy and experience. It's the how or why of a person rather than the what. If we are able to understand why a person acts a certain way, or identify how a person is feeling, then it becomes easier to respond, communicate, and meet each other in the middle. It doesn't necessarily make it easier to understand them as a whole though.
When my daughter was tiny, I attended a parenting class designed to nurture and cultivate your parenting around your ability to listen. The program takes a connected parenting approach, where you correct and guide behavior with empathy. Albeit acknowledging that my daughter is bred from a long history of emotional women, I have found that I connect with her so much deeper than others in my life, because I am better able to understand her, and meet her needs.
Is is possible to ever fully understand someone?
I tend to be a read between-the-lines type of person. I believe that all of our actions are guided by our past, present, and future. That generally speaking, things are not all that they appear to be. I'll use my favorite comedic genius as an example. Robin Williams had to be one of the funniest people alive. That man made me smile and laugh more times than I can count. Though behind his witty humor, and ability to make other people happy, he ended his life as a result of clinical depression. How could someone who is able to make millions laugh, ultimately meet their demise to their own unhappiness? People are far more complex than we will ever understand, and it has become easier to form our opinions of others based on our limited experiences with them, rather than what's underneath the surface, the part we don't see.
So how does that translate in our relationships with others?
There are three sides to every person. The side that they share with others, the side that they keep to themselves and dont want to share, and the side that they still have yet to know in themselves. Though never fully understanding all three aspects of a person's personality, the best we can do is strive to use active listening, empathy and our experiences, to try to understand each other and ourselves better.
I may know you, but I hope to some day understand you.