In the Spirit of Ubuntu: Understanding.

One of the characteristics that I have always acknowledged in myself is my capacity for understanding of the experiences of others.  Over my lifespan, it has often shown itself as almost a dramatic, emotional response to others, because when I connect with the experience of another human being, I seem to feel it on all levels.  Whether joy or sorrow, over a loss, a joy, or anything in between, it seems that my circuitry is totally in tune with it.  This is a part of myself that I have felt self-conscious and negative about at times over the years, but have come to embrace it in myself more recently. 

On September 11 of this year, I was watching the memorial service that was being held in New York City, at Ground Zero.  There were family members reading the names of all of the persons that were killed that day; there were firefighters and police officers in full formal dress; there were family members and friends, clutching photos of their loved ones, throwing roses in the pool of remembrance, dozens of citizens observing from afar.  Music playing and poetry being read.  Every person that died that fateful day, every loved one left behind, I felt them all while watching this.  I wondered what was going through the minds of the police officers that were assisting those family members overcome with emotion; the feelings for the now teenage children who were just youngsters when their parent, or aunt or uncle or grandparent, was taken away.  Hundreds of young children lost a parent that day seven years ago.  I felt all of these pains, it seemed.  As well as the joys in their faces of describing their loved one, recalling that person as if they had just met for coffee the day before……


It brought two specific things to mind, in addition to posts that both Amber and Sanityfound wrote this week on this topic of understanding another person’s experience.  My first thought about this, is that we don’t have to have had the same experience as another person to gain understanding.  You don’t have to be gay to understand what it is like for me to deal with stressors of being a lesbian.  I don’t have to be a drug addict to come to an understanding of the impact of addiction.  A person does not have to have a serious chronic illness to understand how it feels to be ill.  I can though, put myself in that person’s shoes.  I can gain an understanding of what that person may be going through.  I can hold myself accountable to educate myself about what I may not know, so that I can have a better understanding of what that person is experiencing.

Ubuntu.  I am because you are.  I understand, I feel, I am here for you.

The other thought that I have gained about understanding is that, I need to gain an understanding about all persons, even those that would persecute me, or want to bring me harm.  This one is much more difficult, but also freeing in a way.  For example, I have come to have a better understanding of those that are unwilling to accept my homosexual orientation as anything other than a deviant lifestyle, or immoral behavior.  Even though these persons may say derogatory things about me, my ability to gain understanding of their attitude or opinions can help me to maintain my peaceful center, but also to realize that all persons have their own level of awareness, and I feel the need to educate them more about who I am as a person.  It may not change their attitude, but it is very freeing for me to know that I have a better view of what another person’s perspective is, even when they do not agree with me.  It doesn’t give a person the right to disrespect one another, but it can help to open some doors that otherwise have been closed.  This has been an ongoing process for me, but one which has been rewarding the more that I connect with the understanding of my oppressors.

Do you believe that you have to live an experience to gain an understanding of another?  Do you have the desire to understand those that persecute you, or have harmed you in some way?  How deeply do you connect with the experiences of others?  What can you do today to gain a better understanding of another person’s experience?

Ubuntu…. understanding…..


17 thoughts on “In the Spirit of Ubuntu: Understanding.

  1. I had to ponder over this one for a while. I’m personally very compassionate. I’m really not sure why. I don’t feel you have to experience something to understand it.

    I really also believe that knowledge as a child, helps you to grow up and always have the understanding of others. My example is my favorite most loved uncle was gay and it was never hidden from us. We always knew. It was always accepted and always thought of as “normal.” It was back in the middle to late 60’s so a lot of gays weren’t “out” but for us, it wasn’t anything different. So if we grew up loving someone who was gay, it wasn’t an issue for us.

    If you grow up with your parents talking about “differences” in a bad way to a child, don’t you think that child will grow up to think that way also? Don’t you think if a child hears derogatory comments or prejudicial remarks, the chances for them to feel that way or act that way would be higher when they grew up than those from families who had the colors and differences of the rainbow of people in their lives and everyone was treated the same? As humans? I don’t know, that’s just the way I feel and my two grown boys are tolerant of everyone’s differences.

    I’m not sure if I stayed focused or not but I think compassion can be partly a learned behavior. Of course not always, there’s always an exception.

  2. I think empathy is in a large part linked to personality be it of the soul or the mind. An empathetic person feels for another as if they were going through the very same thing. Compassion and understanding those who have wronged you and forgiveness that is growth and strength of spirit. We are all human, we all err, we all live.

    Hmm forgiveness what a topic

    Beautiful post hun, absolutely stunning and well written!

  3. 1. Do you believe that you have to live an experience to gain an understanding of another?

    True understanding, yes.

    2. Do you have the desire to understand those that persecute you, or have harmed you in some way?

    No I don’t. I believe my job is not necessarily to understand them but to love them. I don’t need to know why they are wrong in their beliefs to love them. 🙂

    3. How deeply do you connect with the experiences of others?

    When some people “get cut” I bleed. Others I will call the ambulance.

    4.What can you do today to gain a better understanding of another person’s experience?

    Better understand how I got to where I am (currently) and look at their life to try to understand how they got to where they are.

  4. Wow…if you don’t have a heart that reads others emotions and only yours then you probably didn’t really understand the true meaning of understanding in the first place.

    No, you don’t need to go through the same experience to understand the other, you just need to have an open mind to be able to educate your own self for the same.

    Answering your 2nd question, Do you have the desire to understand those that persecute you, or have harmed you in some way? – Yes I do. As at a personal level, I want to learn, and I want to grow more, and I can grow more, by learning more, so yes, I want to understand what is in that person’s mind that is makin him/her think the way they do.

    3rd: How deeply do you connect with the experiences of others?
    I know I try my best to connect with others and their experiences, I try to hear them, listen to their heart speak. I try to connect. The levels to how well I connected with them, is something that they would need to feel to be able to tell me

    4th What can you do today to gain a better understanding of another person’s experience? – the best is to hear and listen more to them, rather than speak more. Hear and reflect to what they are saying, the words that they use, their backgrounds…these things have always helped me.

    Great Post in the spirit of Ubuntu. Way to go!

  5. I completely understand the understanding of my understanding not NEEDING to feel the desire to understand every person’s emotional state.

    Once I understand my family completely I may consider using energy on strangers whom I will in all likelyhood never have a relationship with anyway.

    My first priority is my family. Everything else is secondary or less.

    But that’s just me. Family first and foremost. BTW there are enough screwed up family members that if I ever do understand all of them I will probably pretty much understand the whole world’s emotions.

  6. Wow, I have loads to say in response to all of these great comments, but I think I need to read each comment a few more times to respond. I did not know that the responses would be so thought out and intense, but it really is giving me some good perspective, as well as “understanding” about others level of “understanding understanding”… boy this could get complicated….. more later, but thank you Joy, Deeps, SF, and mssc54- you rock!!!

  7. Beautiful. I won’t argue whether you can or can not. All I can say is that your thoughts and love make the world a better place. Others make different choices. But picking the way of love and understanding… That makes a positive difference. I love you and everything you stand for. Because we picked the same path.

  8. Okay friends, I am finally back! Let me start with Joy:

    I definitely agree that we, as parents, mentors, and family members and friends directly influence the types of attitudes that those growing up around us have about others, whether persons that are similar or different than ourselves. However, as with so many other things, I also believe that some of it is more vague than that as far as the origins, and cannot be as easily explained. I was never around any persons of color, nor any persons that different from myself as a caucasian female; and, my parents really didn’t talk about issues of diversity in our household. They did not speak in a derogatory manner about different groups of people, not in front of us at least. But somewhere, somehow inside of myself, whether because I myself felt different from the “norm”, or because in my soul I knew that I wanted to embrace full understanding of others, I grew up being much more open and understanding than my parents. Strange, but that is for the “cannot be easily explained” category for me; the stuff that is soul, created by God or the Universe or whatever…. it suits me just fine. I am so glad that you have had a good, positive understanding of what difference is all about from an early age. And yes Joy, I fully understood what you were saying, and you DID stay right on track….. see why you should DEFINITELY comment more often?? Confidence, my lady……

  9. mssc54: Thank you so much for your thoughts on this. I see it a bit differently, as you may have guessed, because in order for me to embrace a person, and have love for that person, I feel compelled to understand where that person is coming from, even if I do not agree. For example, if a troubled teen ends up leading a life of crime, bringing harm to others, I don’t need to accept his criminal actions, but by opening up my heart in a loving, compassionate way, I can at least have an understanding of what may have led him to such actions. For me, it seems an important part of my mission here on earth to have an better understanding of what others go through. I agree, family first, but I always seem to want to find room for others that need assistance, or compassion, as well. And, my need to gain understanding of those that persecute or seem to dislike me, or my orientation, came from a place of not wanting to be so conflictual about issues anymore, specifically with other Christians and the issue of homosexuality. I was tired of the anger in the dialogue. That, to me, is not productive if we all need to try to co-exist on this planet. Understanding…. Even though I have deeper relationships with certain people in my life, at times it is difficult for me to try to distinguish who is more entitled to my understanding, because I believe that all humans are, on some level or another……

  10. Deeps: thanks for coming by! Are you doing okay, I hope? I feel understanding is one of those biggies for me, and part of what I enjoy about conducting trainings on issues of diversity, is to try to open up others to having an understanding about those that are different from themselves. One needs to have that desire to understand, and an open heart, in order to understand; otherwise I don’t believe a person can be skilled at it; not with the desire lacking. You speak from such a heart place, like myself. I used to condemn that in myself for so long, because it ended up cracked and broken many times. But now, because of my open heart, my life is so full!!!!

  11. SF: thanks you!!! Yes, compassion, empathy probably describes best for me what I mean by my understanding of understanding; stepping into another’s shoes, whether you have had their general experience in your lifetime or not; just try to imagine what it might be like for that person. I have found consistently that the issues that bother me about others the most are those which are most bothersome in myself. That has really guided me over the last few months, especially.

  12. AA: Thank you; sometimes I really do feel like I am an alien on a foreign planet, with the way that I think, feel and understand about how to be with my fellow humans. But it is not bullshit, it is all real to me, how we need to treat one another. I sense that sameness in you and it is a comfort and a warm, fuzzy feeling for me, to know that it rings true in your soul as well. Your words really make me feel so good, and heck, it is ALWAYS about the LOVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. Understanding, ah… like one of the cornerstones of Ubuntu. How can you accept someone else if you can’t understand where they are coming from or at least try to see their point of view? When we understand one another we realize how alike we are as opposed to dislike we are. Understanding and knowledge is the key to loving thy neighbor…. great post.. full of truth and wisdom.

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