I don’t understand…

Humans have different experiences, and learn from them. Those experiences make them who they are, and shape their opinions. But somewhere inside each person there are differences. There are people who when looking at a sunset stand in awe, and others who only see a signal that it’s nearly suppertime.

When we don’t understand how someone else has come to the position they are supporting, we can often begin to understand when we ask them for their reasons. They may explain that when they were growing they couldn’t afford to replace things, so they tend to saving and frugality. They may explain that they lost a loved one far too early, and now feel that spending time with family is more important to them than economic gain. They may explain that they have an old injury that is not visible, but prevents them from being as strong or as fast as others, but that they don’t like being treated as handicapped so they don’t mention it. So often one piece of information can illuminated the decision making process of others. While we may still come to other conclusions, we understand how they came to theirs, and don’t feel upset at our own inability to change their position.

But often we are not in a position to ask “Why?” Why would someone spend their spare change on a lottery ticket when the odds are so weighted against winning? How can it seem reasonable to build a oil pipeline through ground that provides food and water for so many when the risk of a spill while small is catastrophic? Why start a war? Why ride a bike without a helmet? Why eat fugu? Sometimes we aren’t in a position to ask those making decisions that may effect us. Sometimes the answer is simply because the other person sees the risk/benefit differently. Why go to a sports event? Someone who enjoys sports identifies with the players and others in the crowd, is cheered by the camaraderie. For me, I would be physically uncomfortable, and mentally, not understanding what others did, and emotionally because I felt different- outside their group. Nothing says that there is anything wrong with their responses to the same situation, or mine. Both are fact based. They might feel equally out of place and confused at an event where I felt at home. In theory we could learn more about the activities of our friends, and some of the confusion would abate- but we might still lack that spark of connection that makes some of us attracted to art and some to sports. Luckily, there are so many wonderful things in the world that there’s something that enchants most people, if they can only find it.

It is usually easier for us to understand that some prefer the taste of strawberries and some prefer chocolate, some want the chicken others the beef, when we can each order what we want. It becomes more problematic when we all must share the same thing, whether it’s food, or the outcome of a political deal.

People go into politics because they want the ability to change the world around them, to fix things they have seen that they feel need fixing. Some have seen the dangers of oppression, others of poverty, others of environmental loss. Each fights for what has been shown to him to be needed. Sadly, once associated with a position, they are likely to be inundated with “supporting evidence” from those fighting for similar causes, and not given more balanced information. And it takes a LOT of evidence to change a world view. I have seen enough evidence that psychic abilities are real that I can’t imagine what might convince me otherwise. Certainly I can be shown that fraud exists in a given case, but that everything I’ve experienced for over six decades is also fraudulent? Highly unlikely. The most I can hope to convince anyone who believes it all to be fraud is that I am a careful observer (although they will almost certainly continue to think I have been fooled). I have to approach most people with a similarly open attitude. They have good reasons to believe what they believe, but they don’t have information that I have.

Sometimes that information is simply the way we’re built. I can perceive things others cannot- such as finding studs under wallboard. (How many people would discover they could if it occurred to them to try?) Other people have better senses of smell, or better color discrimination, or are color-blind. Our decisions are not made simply on different information, sometimes it’s how we experience the world, the way we see, hear, smell. I can usually tell what direction is East, although I am not sure how that works; and yet one of my daughters gets lost so easily that is a family joke. Scientists study how it is that birds can find directions during migration, or dogs defecate facing north. There may be an aspect of one of these abilities in my sense, and we are all as innocent of control over the abilities with which we are born as we are of our hair color, predisposition to certain diseases, or preference for vanilla or chocolate.

How can people not see the harm done by the decisions they make? Sometimes it’s lack of information, sometimes it’s how they prioritize things. We can share information and that will probably help. We can assume that hurtful acts are done by ignorance rather than malice. But neither ignorance nor motivation behind harm done excuses the harm because it doesn’t change it. We can try to help fix what we’ve done in ignorance when we find out about it; and help prevent other people from not knowing what harm they may inadvertently cause, but sometimes we are just going to have to accept that other people don’t see things the way we do. It may be cultural, it may be chemical. It may be an experience we’ve set up before we were born to teach us something we need to learn. But one of the hardest lessons for me is that sometimes I don’t and cannot understand why other people do things.

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