The Desire to Understand

Values can be good things, until you force yours on others without the desire to understand theirs.

There’s a troubling trend in the world. Many have locked themselves into uncompromising belief systems and disconnect from others who believe differently. When combined with appeasement of authoritarian bullies, terrible historical chapters are often written.

The Holocaust is the most horrific example for many in our lifetime. The acceptance of dictatorship domination across much of today’s world is another. Some of us are quick to sacrifice hard won freedoms in the face of convenience, fear, and bluster.

Our most recent eleventh-hour avoidance of a government shutdown is a textbook example of how we allow the intransigence of the few to afflict pain on the many.

My friend and fellow author, Ellen Kirschman writes in her latest blog, “It would be naive to suggest that explaining history will fix it or excuse the perpetrators. But neither will avoidance.”

In an era where sound bites attempt to oversimplify complex issues and active listening is becoming a lost art, the desire to understand is more than the definition of empathy. It is a survival skill.

At my 50th high school class reunion last weekend, it was reassuring to watch adolescent cliques dissolve as we shared conversations about titanium body parts, depression meds, mortality, fears for our grandchildren and how the common connections of music and experience still bind us to one another. Our points of view might have been radically different. But we are all navigating the same challenges.

For now, we still live in a nation where the pursuit of happiness is based on individual freedom, if that definition of freedom does not infringe on the freedoms of others. Intractable interests are chipping away at foundations, like the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, and the proposition that all persons are created equal.

Equality is being redefined as people who look and think like we do. Religion has become a battle ground of exclusion in houses of worship built on the concept of finding commonalities with people who may have dissimilar perceptions from our own, clearly articulated in both the old and new testaments with the words, “love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s the hard work.

My life has been centered on the reality that suffering exists and we are all put on this earth to help alleviate it. All effects begin with a cause. The desire to understand and address what causes suffering is the first step on the road to peaceful coexistence… and survival.

The future of our world will depend on the answer to a single question: Will we have the courage to listen?