If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know how I feel about Pinterest quotes. (And if you don’t, no need to worry! You can find all my thoughts right here 🙂 ). So you can imagine my surprise when I found one tonight that I actually liked. I guess it’s less of a quote and more of a question, but regardless, it has none of the nauseating elements of a typical “inspirational” quote, so that’s a win for me.
It goes like this: “why do people need to understand everything”
Okay, okay. So it may have seemed cooler and more interesting in huge black uppercase letters with an artsy background. Reading it in times new roman or whatever this default font is does make it seem like an overdramatic English teacher wrote in in his sleep. But, that’s exactly why I love these words so much. They’re subtle, but they make you think. Why do people need to understand everything?
The easy answer is because it’s in our biology. Back in the caveman days, humans needed to understand things to survive. Get confused by which animals will eat you, and you die. But back then, things were black and white. Understanding them was easy. So our innate desire to “get” everything wasn’t an issue. But flash forward to now, when almost everything is some kind of muddled gray. In today’s world, nothing is simple. Our tiny cave clan has grown to a staggering 7 billion human beings, each with a unique life experience. 7 billion people, all with their own thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and challenges. There’s no way we can all understand everything about ourselves, let alone that of everyone around us.
What I’m basically saying is we’re stuck. We’re stuck living with brains that need to understand everything about everyone in a society that makes it impossible to do so. And we’ve tried to adapt, by asking questions and making assumptions about people and groups. But it’s not good enough. We are never going to understand everything about each other. We are never going to know what someone else’s life is really like. And that is a really scary thought for a brain that thinks it needs to know everything.
So why do people need to understand everything? Well, if you ask me, they don’t. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we don’t need to know what someone else’s life is like to support them. We don’t need to physically be in someone else’s shoes to show them empathy. Spending hours trying to make sense someone else’s situation is time that could be spent sitting with them, telling them that we’re here to talk. Researching someone else’s disease to try and get how they feel is time that could be spent reaching out to them, asking what we can do to help. As people, we spend so much time trying to understand everyone else that we forget to actually care for them. Knowing the ins and outs of someone’s life means nothing if you don’t actually support them.
But guess what? We can still treat people with compassion when we don’t understand how they feel.
No one owes you an explanation of their struggles to earn your support and your empathy. And you don’t owe one to anyone, either. Accepting, and including, and supporting, and empathizing with people, and doing all of the things that I write about on here don’t require you to understand that person. I don’t expect everyone in my life to know everything about my disease and it’s impact on me. I can’t expect that. But I also shouldn’t have to. Treating people with understanding is not the same as understanding what they’re going through. You don’t have to “get” me to show me support, just like I don’t have to “get” you to show it back.
So on this fine Monday, I challenge you all to do something. Stop trying to understand. Stop trying to make sense of the people around you, and instead, start focusing on how you can show them compassion. Don’t think about why they need that support- think about how you can show it to them, even if it makes no sense to you.
There are 7 billion of us on this earth right now. 7 billion human beings. And, if you ask me, I think we could all do a lot more good if we focused on treating each other with compassion instead of just trying to understand.