The Power of Understanding

Photo by Zuzana Ruttkayova on

To know someone here or there
with whom you can feel there is understanding
in spite of distances or thoughts expressed.
That can make life a garden.


Sometimes I stop to wonder why there are so many divorces, fights, arguments and hard feelings among people. I think I have finally found one of the culprits- mind reading.

You might think of the magic trick where the magician figures out what card you have chosen. Possibly you imagine an old married couple one of whom anticipates what the other is about to say. Or maybe you invite a friend over for dinner and serve exactly what your friend had imagined.

I was sitting on my porch with the above words on my pad, trying to decide what to write next. Along came my mailwoman, Jen, who asked what I was writing as she delivered my mail. After I told her, she offered her opinion that too often people are caught up in their own thoughts and don’t empathize with others. They make up their own minds rather than walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. Could she have been mindreading and known exactly what thought I needed next? I suppose so.

When I sat in counseling with warring couples, I frequently pointed out their pattern of mind reading. They spoke as if they were in each other’s heads or acted as if the other person said something they hadn’t.

I suppose mind reading is harmless enough if you don’t go off half cocked and react to something that might or might not be true. What if you decide your spouse, child, parent or friend is deliberately trying to be obnoxious and do something rotten in return? You might have just started a needless battle which could rage for years. And it could all be due to your faulty imagination and your mind reading.

So how do you get to understand someone? Even if they are talking the same language, people sometimes mean different things by the same words, glances, or mannerisms. Sometimes a person has no idea what another means and assumes that everyone means the same thing by what they say or do. They don’t.

One way to understand people is to ask, “Is this what you mean?” Isn’t that better than assuming you know and fly off the handle in response? You could tell people how you feel when they say or do something which upsets you. When you talk about your feelings rather than attacking others, you have a much better chance of them hearing you. There are no doubt other alternatives as well. Mind reading can be fun when it is a game but devastating when serious matters are at stake.

Action Steps

  • Think of any unresolved issues you have with people. Could they be due to misunderstandings?
  • What could you do to resolve the matter?
  • Have you ever been surprised when someone got upset about something you said or did when you meant no harm?
  • If there are still hard feelings about it, would it help if you explain what you meant?
  • If you are locked in conflict with someone, try stopping to listen to each other’s position rather than just insisting you are right.

Selection from my book, Navigating Life: Commonsense Reflections for the Voyage, available at Amazon