Relationships, part 2: Understanding

(for a little context regarding this post, read part 1)

During my senior year in college, I had a philosophy class. I remember our teacher once asking the whole class what they would change if they could change only one thing in the world. There were many predictable answers like ‘getting rid of famine’ or ‘solving all wars’ and although I don’t remember my answer, I’m pretty sure mine was equally predictable and uninteresting. However, me being me, I did give the question back to the teacher. What would HE change? He fell silent for a moment and then said that he would want everyone in the world to show a little more understanding for one another. I did not think much of his answer at the time, but it always seemed to stick with me. I always thought I was pretty good at ‘being an understanding person’. I have this weird habit of attracting people with serious issues, and according to some people it’s because I’m always willing to listen to people. It’s been like that for as long as I can remember.

A few years back, there was someone I cared for a lot. Long story short, a lot of bad stuff happened, the bad stuff escalated, everything went to shit and I said and did some pretty nasty stuff, even if I did my best to help her and be a supportive person by always being willing to listen. There was one specific moment where she told me that she felt like I did not understand her and it bothered me. Despite those years of being there for people when they were sad, despite all my efforts and despite graduating as a social worker, it wasn’t good enough? In hindsight, it was probably just my ego being hurt at the time, combined with continuously feeling shitty to begin with. Later on, it got me thinking about this whole subject. About what ‘understanding’ and ‘being there for someone’ really meant. There have been many times where people told me about how they were disappointed in other people and obviously people have let me down as well. It happens, it hurts and sometimes it’s enough reason to kick someone out of your life. There have also been many times where people told me about how they felt misunderstood by other people – not surprising, considering we all judge and gossip all the fucking time, regardless whether we want to admit it or not.

All that got me thinking about what my philosophy teacher said and about something else. A specific quote from another social worker that I met during my internship: Frank. He would drive around town in his little bus and pick up loitering teenagers from the street, always lending an ear, trying to help them with all sorts of stuff, and all the teenagers loved him. I once spoke to a girl that hung around him for a long time and she told me how shitty her life used to be, how Frank totally helped her turn her life around and how she was actually happy now. He once wrote something somewhere that always stuck with me;
“I first look at what someone’s missing, not what’s wrong with someone. That ‘missing’ always has something to do with being understood, being appreciated, finding protection, finding love or finding homeliness.”

That really hit home with me, because I realized I did the opposite. I always looked at what was wrong with a person and tried to help them with that or at least listen. Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, lending an ear and focusing on their immediate worries is all a person needs, at other times you’re just fighting symptoms or providing a short-lived relief.

Was this realization enough to make me a great, understanding person who can always be there for everyone and deal with their issues? Hardly. Sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t, sometimes I fuck up and make things worse. In that regard, I’m not much different from many other people, but I try, and I’d like to think that I’m doing better than others. Maybe it’s worth your while to try and “look at what someone’s missing” sometimes.

“In all honesty, the majority of people don’t give a fuck about you. They have their own shit to worry about. They don’t care what you make, or what you lift, or who you are. But that’s fine.” – Dave Tate


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