Just because you ‘understand’ someone’s behaviour, doesn’t mean you agree or have to put up with it. It is precisely because you understand that you take action. So, understanding does not mean inaction. Understanding does not mean that you have to let other people walk all over you.
What it means to understand
What does it mean to ‘try to understand’ somebody or something? At its simplest, to understand something is to recognise the possible chain of events that caused someone to behave in a certain way. For example, you may understand why someone ended-up throwing a chair at their colleague in a particularly emotional situation? Or, how past experiences scar someone in a way that is affecting how they behave with you and others, today.
But, this does not mean that you must simply put-up with any old behaviour just because you understand it. You may understand it and even accept it — in the sense that you acknowledge it as an unfolding reality without denial. However, you are allowed to take action, if you want to.
Often the hidden meaning behind being asked to try and understand is ‘let it go’, or ‘put up with it’. With the implication that you are somehow not being a nice person if you don’t, because nice people ‘understand’. What you must be wary of then, is being emotionally blackmailed into inaction by being asked to ‘try and understand’.
Of course, you may decide to ‘let it go’, but that is not an automatic result of understanding. In fact, it is very possible to take seemingly harsh decisions from a place of deep understanding. A place that truly recognises the potential suffering at play both for you and the other. This is the realm of rigorous compassion.
Understanding does not mean inaction (or action)
To really understand what is at play automatically implies nothing — neither action nor inaction. Both are feasible. So, really trying to understand is about making the effort to delve into what is going on, whatever action or inaction may come out of it.
It is an open enquiry with an open outcome that you must undertake in good conscience. Just beware the subtle pressures hidden within seemingly innocent words.
Harsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.