Why are we so bad at understanding each other? We asked our readers to weigh in on the question: What’s the hardest thing to understand about people?
When overcoming social, political or cultural communication barriers, you may feel powerless in the face of miscommunications, lack of empathy or people espousing “alternative facts” that are just plain wrong.
With that frame of reference, we asked our readers: What’s hard for you to understand about others? Here's how they responded.
Specific Situations and Ideas
One reader told us that the idea of self-harm was hardest for them to understand. First and foremost, if you know someone who practices self-harm, encourage them to get help. They can text HOME to 741741 (Crisis Text Line), which will connect them to trained volunteers to help in particularly emotional moments.
Still, while one person’s coping mechanism may not make sense to you, we can all connect to suffering in some way.
For example, while only about 17% of all people practice self-harm throughout their life, almost everyone has at one point struggled with depression, stress, anxiety or existential dread. And in each of these instances, pain has a way of closing you in on yourself, perhaps leaving you desperate to find a way out of your feelings. As a defense response, people sometimes resort to self-harm as a way to change or move their pain externally.
While we may not understand what leads someone to self-harm, the more we actively try to learn about the underlying conditions that cause people to turn to self-harm, and the symptoms for identifying when someone is struggling, the more we can further civil discourse on the subject. No one should feel they need to suffer in silence.
How to Balance Empathy With Others’ Lack of Care
Many of our readers also expressed difficulty understanding others’ lack of empathy.
“I can’t relate to people who don’t care about other people’s opinions because I always do,” wrote one reader. Another said, “It’s hard to understand how people think or don’t think.”
This is a conundrum because it can be challenging to discern why someone’s opinion is being seemingly disregarded.
Is it due to one person’s boundaries?
Some people are natural empaths, and while some empaths thrive on listening to and caring for others, some empaths don’t have the capacity to bear the world’s problems on their shoulders. Empaths often absorb the feelings of others—whether positive or negative. And taking in opinions or perspectives that don’t further civil discourse can feel toxic to their mind, body and soul.
Or is it due to a stagnant perspective?
One person responded their biggest confusion is, “Not changing your views when more evidence is presented.” In these cases, when you’re engaging with someone set in their own ways, unwilling to expand their mindset, it’s important to assess whether it’s best to just walk away from a conversation, as opposed to using your energy to change someone’s mind.
Next time you feel an opinion is disregarded, try to understand why. Ask the person, “Do you have the mental capacity to discuss this right now?” Or is there another reason why they’ve avoided civil discourse?
Dealing With Haters
Two additional respondents say their biggest challenge is understanding “why others pay more attention to what I’m doing rather than what they’re doing?” and “self-righteousness.”
Age-old wisdom says that everything that irritates you about others can lead you to a better understanding of yourself.
In that way, those who place a keen focus on what you’re doing, as opposed to their own actions, may actually be your best admirers. The emergence of critics may show that you’re doing something right, something another wishes they could achieve.
If you see critics imposing self-righteousness on your lifestyle choices, ask yourself:
Does this person see my reality for what it is?
Why might my views differ so starkly from theirs?
What is this person’s situation, and how is it different from my own?
How can I encourage others rather than discourage them?
The takeaway here is considering how you feel when others give you negative attention and how you can act in the opposite manner and become more accepting toward others.
Finding a place of unity amid a divided world is one of the hardest and yet bravest things we grapple with today. At the end of this post, we wondered, what can we do to better understand others? The first, most radical step you can take is trying to understand yourself. And to that, we’ll ask you readers one last question: What’s hard for you to understand about you?
The more we lift the shroud surrounding these questions, the more hope we have of eliminating unnecessary suffering. Do you like pondering these difficult questions? Subscribe to The Doe’s blog and get more thought starters delivered directly to your inbox!