By Father Charles Bober
In homilies, I often hear that we “… should try to understand one another and show compassion.” Personally, I feel I am not well understood even by those who are close to me. I used to think that it is me, but lately, I think that most people just do not care about anyone else. How sad that is. What’s the answer?
The thoughts expressed in the question above are unfortunately heard too often today. Some people say it is just the result of our culture and society. Others blame the digital age and that people prefer to interact with digital media and not in person. Still others say that people have become more self-centered and less interested in others. Then, some people say that they have been hurt when they try to reach out and so they just don’t try anymore.
While all of the above may play a part in what people feel, but it can’t be the complete answer. It seems that the issue of truly understanding another person is first of all rooted in our own self-awareness. This is especially important when someone speaks to us about an issue in their lives. Being truly aware of our own lives we then can refer to an analogous experience.
Our attempt to connect with another, then, is related to the notion of “what does that feel like?” When a person is not in touch with themselves they have trouble putting themselves in the place of another. That is true of people across the human spectrum. When that occurs in families, schools, neighborhoods and workplaces, it is difficult. But it is not insurmountable.
An awareness of our own identity is essential. This involves not what we do but rather who we are. Essential to that the religious dimension that places emphasis on not how we are different but how we are the same. Our world too often focusses on our differences. But our faith challenges us to think first of what unites us. That has to begin with our common origin as God’s sons and daughters.
In that view, we all have come into this world as the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27). Upon that foundation, we realize that our human origins are accompanied by human needs and aspirations, fears and hopes. Too often we complain that others don’t understand us. How often have we asked ourselves how much we understand others and if we don’t why is that?
All of this is best pondered within our life of prayer. There, we can become convinced that we are understood by the Lord who reads hearts. God truly knows us and our struggles because God created us. This is made clear in Psalm 139: “LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.” Before all else, knowing that God understands is the beginning of our own self-understanding and in fostering better relationships with others.