I remember a couple of friends in university who simply could not understand each other. Anything the one would say, the other would misinterpret in a truly, fantastically dreadful way. I couldn’t even believe how off they were. We finally coined a description of their communication: ‘Can I help you clean the floor?’ ‘Stop trying to steal my vacuum cleaner.’ In fact, it got to be that among my entire bunch of friends, whenever someone felt misunderstood, they might say, ‘hey, relax; I’m not trying to steal your vacuum.’
So often, assumptions, resentments, expectations, emotions, selfishness and self-centeredness get in the way of understanding. For me, also, there’s the fact that I’m less adept at reading body language and verbal tone than some (not that I’m dreadful – I’ve had years of practice, and I would say I’m getting better all the time – but I still miss quite a bit that some others catch.) Since that’s 95% of communication, I have the potential to miss a lot.
Lack of understanding is a big factor of what then leads to hurt feelings. If I didn’t understand how important something is, I may not have taken the proper care to ensure it happened. I may think ‘oh, I missed this one little task – no biggie, I’ll take care of it later.’ The other person might be thinking, however, ‘she doesn’t care, for if she did, she’d know this was important and wouldn’t miss it.’ I might think I’m helping when someone else thinks I’m being in the way. I might be trying to give someone space and he might see it as coldness. All in all, misunderstandings lead to hurts.
I’ve been looking for a way to understand better and to be better understood for years. The Jewish tradition says study of Torah helps with understanding the world, so I try to study. On the other hand, learning only from a book can lead to that cobweby bookstore feeling where one doesn’t know people at all. Experience is needed too.
A lot of understanding, mind you, is getting rid of dignity. No one wants to say ‘you’re in the way’ or ask ‘did I mention that already?’ It’s embarrassing to have to ask. I feel like I should just know, instinctively. Since I don’t though, asking is my best bet, and the only way I can do that is to be cool with the chance of embarrassment. It also means I have to admit my imperfections. Yes, I do forget the things I have to do sometimes. Once I accept that I’m human and they’re human, once I up the questions – I increase the understanding.