Seeking to Understand

O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.

–St. Francis of Assisi

What does it mean to understand the other?

In my younger years, I tried so hard to be understood, to be seen as a person of value, rather than one of “those people” who received free lunches my entire school career, who could not afford to go to the movies or have my own car.  I needed people to see me as a struggling human with issues of self worth, and to teach me how to love in a real way.

What I got instead was talking behind my back, finger pointing and ignorance of my true nature as a human.  It’s not that I was unintelligent, but that I had no one to help me figure out how the larger world worked and how I could fit into it.

I don’t write this to make anyone feel guilty or to ask for anyone’s pity.  I write this to point out one of the greatest needs in society – the need to understand the other.

I am just finishing the book Bridges Out of Poverty, by Ruby Payne, Philip DeVol, and Terie Dreussi Smith.  In it, the authors talk about relationships being the cornerstone of helping people in poverty to move toward a different life.  I say different, not better, because my life growing up, for all its financial and social difficulties, was basically one of being loved and cared for.

As a child who grew up in the poverty culture, I didn’t see it as pitiful, but as normal.  I knew that others had things that I wanted and didn’t know how to get, but our family was caring and faithful to one another.

Payne talks about relationship being one of the most important aspects of helping people change their life situation because with relationship comes understanding.  The more I talk with, interact with, and hang out with someoe else, the more I will understand that person.  We can study other cultures for years, but until we enter that culture through a relationship with someone in that culture we will not understnad.

Whose culture have you entered?  With whom have you started a relationship outside your own culture, be it economic, ethnic, gender identity, or any other “classification” of difference?  Has it changed your perception of that culture?

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.“–Leviticus 19:34, NIV

God calls us to love the stranger as we love our own.  This involves moving from our comfort zone into the dangerous waters of relationship.  The danger is that we will be feared, rejected or ignored, which may hurt our egos.  The reward of such a venture, however, far outweighs any risk of our own damaged ego.  The reward is that we will understand more fully the humanity of the other.  The reward is that we will no longer have to rely on stereotypes and prejudices handed to us by our own culture, which has possibly not tried to understand the other, but has simply judged based on its own culture as the benchmark of what is “right.”

The goal of understanding is love because love seeks to place the other first in importance.  As we seek out personal relationships with people whose culture we do not fully know or understand, we come to a greater understanding of humanity as a whole.  That is, we come to realize that humanity is the same as a whole; there are simply differences in understanding.

Seek them out.  Talk to them.  LISTEN to them.  Love them.

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