I think that understanding others is really not so difficult. The problem is that most of us do not really try. In fact, often we deliberately try not to understand. When we fight with someone, we want to believe that we are in the right, and the easiest way to do this is by not seeing their point of view. Although this strategy may protect our self-esteem in the short-term, it does nothing to resolve the conflict. Furthermore, by pretending not to understand the other person’s point of view, we are lying to ourselves. This actually ends up harming our self-esteem in the long run.
Simply wanting to understand someone is 90% of the battle. When we make a genuine effort to do so, it is quite easy. However, it does take practice to properly hone our skills. We need to get good at putting ourselves in someone’s shoes and trying to imagine what they’re feeling. It is important that we do not imagine what they ought to be feeling, or what we would be feeling in their situation. Instead, based on what we know of the person, we need to think very carefully of what they will be feeling. Think through all of the possibilities and ask which is most consistent with their behaviour, and which is most consistent with what we know about that person. It is simple, but few people do it.
Learning to understand people makes a big difference to our lives. We become more considerate and forge closer relationships. Furthermore, we are less liable to get hurt, because we can see past people’s behaviour and understand why they do the things they do. Therefore, we should devote a lot of attention to achieving this goal, and if we ever find ourselves sabotaging it by lying to ourselves and pretending not to see, we should be immediately alerted. We should recognize that any short-term gain in self-esteem achieved by this strategy will be far overwhelmed by the suffering that we cause, the ongoing conflict in our life, and the shame that results from lying to ourselves.