Like any other useful human trait, understanding must be intentionally cultivated through practice. Understanding does not necessarily mean agreeing with someone. We can have different values than others and respect their point of view. Like any other mindful practice, it must be based on compassion. Compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others. Compassion is what will allow us to forgive ourselves when we forget to practice and to hear others with a beginner’s mind to have patience, a non-judgmental attitude and acceptance of other’s views.
In order to hear another’s perspective, we need to practice the Zen Buddhism theory of the beginner’s mind. If we believe our view is “right” and we already “know the answer”, we are not open to the other person’s perspective. Notice when your brain is saying you know what is right and practice focusing your consciousness back to the present moment and listen to understand. This is where disagreements happen for people. When both parties “know the answer” so neither is truly listening to the other.
Working on our ability to be patient with others can be a highly introspective process. Once you label emotions in a useful way, you begin to understand where they originate. When your mind tells you the person you are talking to is frustrating you, tell your mind to instead say, I am experiencing frustration. This gives you the power. Apply curiosity to the frustration and you will then likely notice a rigid belief in your mind that has led to this frustration. You still don’t have to agree with what the person is saying. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and feeling frustrated about a different perspective is simply not useful.
If you consider the commonality of human emotions and the complexity of human thought and behavior it becomes easier to be non-judgmental of others. I promise you that none of us can honestly say we have not experienced intense emotions at one time or another and reacted to those emotions in less than useful ways. If we can keep that at the forefront of our minds, we can replace judgment with compassion. We may not know what is happening for the other person or what has led them to the state they are currently in. But we can hold compassionate space for them, knowing that whatever their actions or behaviors are, they make sense in context.
I encourage you to view acceptance of another’s view or perspective that differs significantly from your own as a measure of maturity and growth. If we are working on a practice of understanding we should be open to and hoping for our own view to be changed by communicating with others. Obviously, this will not happen every time. It is possible that we may walk away with our original view intact. The overall goal should be that everyone involved feels heard, understood, and validated for who they are.
About Bruce Craig: Bruce is a Resident in Counseling providing counseling services at our Fredericksburg location. Bruce completed a rigorous internship working with individuals, couples, families, and groups. He finds Mindfulness to be useful in helping clients be in the present moment. To learn more about Bruce, visit here.