Understand, don’t interpret


A lot of our problems arise from our tendency to rush and interpret people, occurrences or even thoughts than understand them. Even before people have finished saying what they want to we have composed our responses in our mind. When a simple coincidence like a cat crossing our path happens, we have interpreted it as a bad omen. If we dream of someone dying in our dream, we interpret it as a sign that something grave is due to happen, often as a premonition of our own death! Our urge to interpret, or our inability to deeply understand Life, often comes in the way of our living fully, completely!

Even if unwittingly, my neighbor taught me the value of understanding, over interpreting, this past week. My neighbor also happens to be administering the affairs of the condominium in which we live. When we moved in here, I noticed that the common waste disposal bins were too small for the amount of trash that was generated by the apartments in our building. It never struck me then that I could suggest to my neighbor that she consider enhancing the capacity of those bins. However, when a journalist friend from a local daily pinged me asking for some thoughts on being responsible citizens in today’s age and time of community living in condominiums, I did speak openly on how ‘insensitive’ condominium planning and planners can be. I requested my friend not to quote me because I loathe any visibility and also because I was new in our condominium. My friend assured me that I would not be quoted. I was traveling for several weeks after this conversation so I missed reading the local papers in that time. Upon my return from my travels, I happened to meet my neighbor. She promptly referred to the report in the local daily, which had appeared when I was away, and said: “Good point. But I wish you had told me about this first before talking about it in the media.” I was shocked. I looked up the newspaper clipping and there I was, evidently quoted. My journalist friend had obviously not kept her word. I apologized to my neighbor profusely and transparently shared with her how this had come about. “I am sorry we are experiencing each other this way. I seek your understanding,” I prevailed upon her. It was a particularly awkward moment. I was meeting my neighbor only a second time since we had moved in. And to be defending a banal situation such as this one was so stupid. Further, in a condominium’s context, where neighbors, particularly if they are also administrators, have huge egos, this unintended media coverage and its possible aftermath were both imminently avoidable. My neighbor and I shook hands and we promised to reach out if we could help each other in any way. Ever since that instance, surprisingly, our neighbor has been always available for any escalations we may have had with regard to issues relating to the common areas or shared services in our building. And yesterday, she even reached out and apologized for an inconvenience that we were put through owing to the elevator not working.

I personally am humbled by her maturity and personal leadership. While the incidents in question itself are so inconsequential, her decision to employ trust and understanding, in place of ego and interpretation is both commendable and inspiring. If we look around us, more than half the time, our relationships are strained because of the scourge of interpretation. Almost anyone who lives in a condominium will appreciate the potential that such episodes have to vitiate the environment and spread disharmony. If my neighbor, more so in her role as an administrator, had chosen to interpret me, she may well have approached the entire episode of that media coverage as follows:

  1. How dare he talk about our condominium’s planning and planners when he is a rank newcomer here?
  2. Why did he choose to talk to the local daily when I was just living a floor above him – obviously he has a sinister agenda to paint me black?
  3. For all the damage he has caused, for which he feigns an apology now, I don’t want to have anything to do with him and his family – let him fend for himself!

There’s so much destructive power that interpretation holds. And so much constructive opportunity that understanding offers. It is a no-brainer which path we must choose. Yet, by default, we all often rush to interpret. To interpret means to judge. To judge means to perceive. And, as Aristotle has said, to perceive means to suffer, because what you perceive may or may not be true. To understand, on the other hand, is to accept people for who they are. There is no judgment involved here. And those that understand always, as I have learned from my neighbor, have a teachable point of view.


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