To Understand Each Other


"We must be reminded that the first condition for mutual understanding is the desire for, the seeking after, and the willing of that understanding. Such a statement may appear very commonplace. Nevertheless, this basic attitude toward understanding others is far rarer than we think. Listen to all the conversations of our world, those between nations as well as those between couples. They are for the most part dialogues of the deaf. Each one speaks primarily in order to set forth his own idea, in order to justify himself, in order to enhance himself and to accuse others. Exceedingly few exchanges of viewpoints manifest a real desire understand the other person."1
- Paul Tournier, To Understand Each Other

Paul Tournier, the eminent Swiss physician and psychotherapist, originally wrote these words in the context of marriages and couple relationships. However, his message equally applies to our interactions with neighbours, colleagues and even with strangers: "[that] to achieve understanding, we need to want it."

Whether we’re talking about family relationships or global relationships, one of the primary ingredients in getting along amicably with one another, and in achieving (or maintaining) peace, is understanding -- mutual understanding. If we cannot understand, and respect, one another's point of view -- that is, each other's values, desires, and fears -- and if we cannot discover, and comprehend, the "real person" on the other side, then how can we even begin to peacefully resolve our relationship problems?

I am often amazed at how our fundamental outlook on relationships, especially close relationships, provides an outline of how we usually see others, especially strangers. If I am impatient and judgmental and closed-minded with someone that I know extremely well -- a friend that I am very close to -- then how will I respond to someone that I hardly know? If I cannot (or rather will not) attempt to see another's struggles, and fears, from their personal perspective, then how can I ever expect to cultivate compassion and self-giving love ['lovingkindness'] within myself and toward another? And if I cannot forgive and seek (mutual) healing, and reconciliation, with my 'enemies', how can I expect to live in peace .... within my own life, and with the life that surrounds me?

The beginning of change begins with building (creating) a desire for change. In life, all of our actions [and interactions] -- whether with a spouse or friend, or a stranger or beggar -- begin with desire and choice: our desire to understand and reach-out, and our choice to reconcile and bring healing.