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\”Understanding\” – Word of the Week

Definition of the word of the week (UNDERSTANDING): To know and be tolerant or sympathetic toward

I remember riding on a bus in Mexico. While seeing the sights, one of my fellow passengers was a loud, somewhat obnoxious person and he was buying some trinkets from one of the locals. When he was told how many pesos were needed, he was not able to compute the exchange rate so he asked, “How much is that in real money?” The implication was that dollars are real money and pesos are not—an obvious insult to the local populace. My first thought was rather unkind but my second thought was, “No wonder the phrase ‘Ugly American’ is so common.” Rude and clueless people like this guy give other traveling Americans a bad name.

First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “Understanding is a two-way street.” We expect others to understand us so we need to make an effort to understand others. Here in Baldwin County, our population is growing more diverse everyday and we need to deal with this fact. Understanding will help dispel prejudices so that the issues that now divide us will then unite us and make us a stronger community.

I have found that those who are well-traveled, in general, are more understanding of others. For example, in the Arab culture, men hold hands in public. If seeing that troubles you, get over it. In the Spanish culture, their “personal space” is less than a North American’s. We may feel uncomfortable with someone standing extremely close to us when speaking and they may feel that we are standoffish because we do not stand close enough. It’s simply a cultural difference that we all need to understand.

Instead of focusing on our differences, understanding will lead us to the realization that everyone has similar wants and needs. We all want something worthwhile to do, we all want to love someone and be loved by someone and we all need something to hope for. Perhaps Azel Backus, Hamilton College’s first president, said it best, “Error always addresses the passions and prejudices; truth scorns such mean intrigue, and only addresses the understanding and the conscience.”

Which will you address in your life, prejudice or understanding?

The following quotations are intended to assist in explaining and exemplifying the word of the week:

Till a man can judge whether they be truths or not, his understanding is but little improved, and thus men of much reading, though greatly learned, but may be of little knowing. John Locke, Philosopher

The history of the building of the American nation may justly be described as a laboratory experiment in understanding and in solving the problems that will confront the world tomorrow. Nicholas Butler, Educator

Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave. George Gurdjieff, Author

I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. I want to be all that I am capable of becoming. Katherine Mansfield, Author

Everyone has a responsibility to not only tolerate anther person’s point of view, but also to accept it eagerly as a challenge to your own understanding. And express those challenges in terms of serving other people. Arlo Guthrie, Artist

When we talk about understanding, surely it takes place only when the mind listens completely – the mind being your heart, your nerves, your ears – when you give your whole attention to it. J. Krishnamurti, Theosophist

The highest activity a human being can attain is learning for understanding, because to understand is to be free. Baruch, Philosopher

The inspiration of the Almighty gives man understanding. Christian & Judaism Scriptures

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. Carl Jung, Psychiatrist

There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it. Charles Kettering, Inventor

Conceit is incompatible with understanding. Count Tolstoy, Philosopher

Gracefulness is to the body what understanding is to the mind. Francois, De La Rochefoucauld, Writer

Once we realize that imperfect understanding is the human condition, there is no shame in being wrong, only in failing to correct our mistakes. George Soros, Businessman

I do not want the peace that passes understanding, I want the understanding that brings peace. Helen Keller, Author

Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature. Jacob Bronowski, Scientist

Words do two things: they provide food for the mind and create light for understanding and awareness. Jim Rohn, Philosopher

To understand one thing well is better than understanding many things by halves. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, Poet

To know someone here or there with whom you can feel there is understanding in spite of distances or thoughts expressed – that can make life a garden. Von Goethe

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Kahlil Gibran, Poet

The power of intuitive understanding will protect you from harm until the end of your days. Lao-Tzu, Philosopher

The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding. Leonardo Da Vinci

COL Patrick Beer, the Dean of Students and Commandant of Cadets at Georgia Military College, prepares this study guide each week as part of the institution’s character education program. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers. He can be contacted by phone, 478-445-2710 or by email, pbeer@gmc.cc.ga.us