Thursday, February 21, 2008

Understanding and Knowing

I came across this quote today on my Google account page and it struck me:

"It is by universal understanding that all agree. For if, by ill luck, people understood each other, they would never agree." Charles Beaudelaire.

So I wondered, is this really true? Because in today's reality, it is often claimed that people disagree precisely because we do NOT understand each other. Then again, there is a 50% divorce rate in the US and many other countries, and major fallouts happen frequently between people because when they actually have the opportunity to really KNOW one another, they do not like what they see.

So is there a difference between KNOWING and UNDERSTANDING? Yes, I believe so, at least it's what my mind perceives. Understanding, in my view, suggests that one feels some emotion for another person, that although that person may do something we don't like, yet, after a while, when contrition is in some way expressed, we can go past personal feelings, perceptions and perhaps even pride, and really SEE somebody else's point of view or simply, understand that mistakes are sometimes made and move on.

Knowing, on the other hand, is just that. We can know many things, and we can even have an opinion about those things, but that does not necessarily mean that we understand them. It does not even mean that we're "intelligent" about things.

So once again, I go back to Beaudelaire's statement. If we would disagree with somebody the more we understand them, how can we claim to have what we like to call "humanity", as in the propensity to "be good"? Are we saying that "being bad" is more natural to us? How terrible! We have the capacity to be cruel and set in our ways. I've been cruel sometimes, although in my present life, I've learned to let go very quickly of negative feelings towards others, for if I do not, regrets surface to haunt me. Sometimes, I feel relief when my "cruelty" has revealed a complete lack of compassion in others, the kind that destroys unity between people. For example - let's say I went all out and argued with a friend and reacted negatively to something. If soon after, I do all I can to make up for something I said or did, with genuine concern and feeling, and that offer of a truce is rejected, I feel no regret, but infinite relief that I can see the other person's true colors. For in this case, prideful emotions and barriers have outwitted all other feelings and my initial cruelty has been returned in kind, rather than suppressed in the spirit of good will.

Would my initial act of impulsive cruelty, in that case, have made me worse or more unworthy than the other person, then? I don't think so. We all have, at some points in life, disagreed with others and yes, been cruel or selfish in our words and actions to family members, friends, colleagues or even acquaintances or people we hardly "know", whether unwittingly or purposefully. We can even be selfish by saying or doing nothing, or by rebelling against imaginary enemies when we feel threatened. Often, we cut our own noses to spite our faces because our pride hurts our own "self" more than anyone else.

So where am I going with this? In essence, do we need to truly understand or even know someone to disagree with them or hurt them? Again, is the misunderstanding the source of our disagreement? Or perhaps, is it because we know them or rather, do not know them at all? My opinion - it's not the actual lack of "understanding" that is the true offender here.

I think we disagree with someone not because we "understand" them. If we understood somebody, in my mind, we would accept them.

We may disagree, I think, because we have "knowledge" -- and when we are exploiting others, we are exploiting our knowledge of them. We may also disagree with others because we only care about what we believe or want to believe. Perceptions are very strong and when they are formed, and mingle with our PRIDE, they form a formidable barrier around us. I know this because sometimes, albeit (thankfully) rarely, I've made this mistake, and others have sometimes made it towards me. Hey, Jane Austen even wrote a book about two important emotions I'm dipping into here - Pride and Prejudice.

So finally, do we see the "bad" in others because we understand ourselves too much? I believe that we can go around and around about why people fight so much with each other, but I think that at the end of the day, when people can't move past their position, it boils down to one thing - ego. Namely, pride.

This, dear readers, is what mostly creates the end of peace, love and friendships between us "humans".

~ Angela Guillaume ~
"Breathtaking Sensual Romance"
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