I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this before, but everyone else is not like you! Have you caught that? Bizarre but true! People think differently, they respond differently, they behave differently … they value different things, make different decisions, choose different life paths.
Those differences confront us at every turn – in the little and the big. When planning a meal for a family with a wide range of food preferences, sitting on a train and observing people’s sense of socially acceptable behaviour or trying to resolve a conflict with a friend or spouse.
In Proverbs 4:7 it says “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it costs you all you have, get understanding.”
If you are interested in improving your relationships, in reducing your frustration levels, in experiencing greater peace in your daily life (and who isn’t?) you might want to consider these words of Solomon more closely.
There is incredible power – to heal, to calm, to enable, to free – in the simple (but not easy) process of understanding others. There are few things more able to defuse anger, disappointment, wounding or annoyance than a healthy dose of understanding. Anything that can help you to perceive and receive things through another’s lens, anything that provides greater context for what you are witnessing or experiencing, anything that positions you in a place of empathy and assistance (rather than opposition and resistance) can only be beneficial.
I’m a great proponent of personality theory. The idea of doing some thinking and exploring (reading, talking and listening) around the areas of temperament and nature that can help us first to understand ourselves … then to understand others … then to understand why others don’t understand us … and then to help others understand why others don’t understand them … etc.
There are a million and one diagnostic tools available to help in this area. One of the simplest and most readily applicable I know of is “Personality Plus” by Christian author Florence Littauer (clickhere for more information). Over the next few blog posts we’ll use her framework to give us some insight into understanding ourselves and others more.
Please hear my heart in this.
Solomon advises that wisdom is supreme and understanding is worth any price we need to pay for it.
In my own life, coming to understand myself more through this kind of lens was nothing short of transformational – it freed me to celebrate how God had uniquely wired me while being more empathetic to how others received me. It changed ALL of my relationships, it impacted my work life, it grew me in wisdom and my ability to relate to, encourage and lead others. (All of these things are definitely still a work in progress!)
Let’s see if we can’t move a little further along in our journey towards understanding others.