by Kristen Cramer
Earlier in my life, I spent nearly a decade working for FranklinCovey, and was therefore regularly exposed to Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. As I observe the world in which we live, with all the hatred, violence, and hurt, I can’t help but think of Habit 5:
Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.
I’d like to look at this habit and how it can increase kindness in the world. Before I dive into my thoughts, let’s get a couple of definitions laid out.
Take note that none of the three definitions listed for “understand” contain “agree”. You can perceive the intended meaning of things, and their significance, explanation, or cause of them without agreeing that it is correct. I keep seeing instances in the news and social media where people do not feel understood because the other person does not all of a sudden agree with their position. This leads to hurt, and feelings of being misunderstood or being marginalized. People at times extrapolate someone not agreeing with them on a subject to not understanding, and taking it further by accusing the person of having hatred toward that thing or group of people.
So how do we put a stop to it? What if we can understand something without agreeing? Imagine taking the time to really hear why a person believes and acts the way they do, to hear their story. As you come to know of their struggles, successes, hardships, upbringing, and more, perhaps their world view might just make more sense. Your world view may not change, but you can now understand why their view differs from yours. Sometimes our views do change as we learn more about other people and their experiences. We are capable of intellectual growth, and should embrace truth as we find it.
As you really listen to someone rather than prepare your retort, maybe you will find areas of common ground. Maybe you both have a passion for increasing literacy, or a passion for taking care of the Earth. Maybe you learn new ways of looking at an issue that will help you both come to an even better solution that hasn’t been put forward yet. Maybe you will still passionately disagree and think the other person is crazy, but you at least understand what thought process led them to their opinion or decision.
The second half of Habit 5 is to “then be understood.” It’s a two way street folks! It’s not enough for just one person in the conversation to be understood. Make sure you are ready to give the same courtesy to the other person. We would all be better off if people were willing to take these steps, even if they can be uncomfortable.
Just remember what comes first. You must seek to understand the other person. Don’t just shout from the rooftops about how misunderstood you are and wait for people to come around to your point of view. Be the one to listen first.
I honestly think we would come up with better solutions to the world’s problems if we sincerely listen to others rather than just hide in our own opinion camp and throw hatred at the other side. I also believe that as we strive to understand others, we will find much more in common with those who at first glance seem so different than us.
Remember, understanding someone’s perspective does not mean you have to agree with them. Likewise, just because someone agrees with something doesn’t always mean they understand it. Let’s talk. Let’s gain understanding. We might just find some things we agree on.
Kristen Cramer has lived in Provo for over a decade. She is the wife of an amazing husband, mother to three incredible children, and is passionate about doing good. She also enjoys photography, hiking, gardening, and reading.