To understand and be understood is the essence of communication. When we come to understand something or someone, we gain a sense of appreciation for the underlying causes, logic, personality, and operations pertaining thereto. This appreciation can develop into gratitude, which becomes the catalyst for change. Especially is this true regarding spiritual understanding. As we come to understand the things of God, our attitude and behavior change, and we cultivate a deep sense of gratitude. Understanding is the companion to faith, the mentor of hope, and the protector of values. To understand something or someone requires effort, ability, perception, sometimes interpretation as to meaning or purpose, and a host of intellectual and empathetic capacities. The capacity to understand becomes a major function in our lives. We want to understand universal concerns such as life, relationships, family values and roles, life after death, and many more important and meaningful things.
“Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalms 119:34). The power of understanding the things of God will give us the power to keep the commandments with all of our hearts. It will also help us understand more things in our daily lives. Should we, therefore, not seek to understand?
“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding” (Proverbs 3:13). Happiness is dependent upon our understanding. When we understand and receive the love of God, we will be happy. We will also be able to apply that understanding to the people around us.
Here are four ideas and principles to help us learn how to understand:
1. Knowledge precedes understanding.
- Get the facts. First seek out information to appreciate the subject or the person. This is absolutely essential. Take time. “Let’s get the facts first” is a good motto to follow before taking action that is wise and prudent. “A man of understanding hath wisdom” (Proverbs 10:23).
- Assemble the best information from the best sources.
- Understanding takes initiative and effort. It is not a passive skill. Exert effort, whether in your studies or your relationships. One must always try.
- Understanding is something that comes over time. Time is your ally in coming to understand anything. Listening requires patience. Resist the urge to step in with judgment or recommendations until you have a knowledgeable grasp of the situation.
2. Using all your faculties gives you a greater ability to understand.
- The key to a better understanding of people is to combine your sources of information: include their words, their body language, and their actions past and present, both what they do as well as what they choose not to do.
- Listen not only with the ears, but also with the heart.
- Practice empathy. You can never fully understand until you try to feel another’s emotions.
- Adjust the perspective. Remember, you see things by your perception, which filters everything in life. Recognize this and account for it. Your past, your attitudes, and your values affect your perception.
3. Leadership cultivates understanding and clarity.
- A principal role of leadership is to articulate vision and objectives with such clarity that the team understands what is at stake and takes action with purpose.
- Learn to express yourself with clarity and precision, so that you cannot be misunderstood.
- Avoid misunderstanding. Use disclaimers, where helpful, such as: “In saying this, I do not mean to imply . . . ” or “Please don’t misunderstand. I am not saying . . . ”
- Understanding is an interactive process. Test your understanding by expressing what you believe you have heard, and then ask the simple question, “Is this what you mean?” What is said next by the person holds the key to true understanding.
4. Understanding is a gift to others.
- Understand that listening has important consequences and benefits for the person being listened to. There are few human experiences that cause a person to increase in self-confidence more rapidly than when someone truly listens to him or her.
- Provide the best resources. Understanding a person means that you can better channel to him or her the correct resources, at the right time, in the right manner.
- Foster freedom of choice. It is an act of kindness to say to a person, after you have listened to all that has been said, “What are your options? What do you think you should do?” Then the real listening begins, because you have just honored the dignity of a person’s right to choose.
- Create harmony. Would you rather preside over a home or a business of strict control and highly structured order, or one of understanding and harmony? Understanding creates harmony and love.
When you come to an understanding of anything or anyone, you come to appreciate the value of that thing or person. A sense of gratitude is usually the result. This has an effect of changing our attitude as well as our behavior. Our relationships in life are based upon understanding and trust. Without them it would be difficult to have any lasting relationships. Our power to comprehend and understand anything reflects on our ability to learn and to apply that knowledge for our betterment and that of our families. Yes, understanding is a key to life and the pursuit of happiness. As the scriptures confirm: “Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it” (Proverbs 16:22).
This article has been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.