The Magic of Understanding
Originally published on 4-5-11
Call it being a good listener; call it part of being a good friend, or just plain part of being a good human. If you can say the following two words, “I understand”, and really mean it, you’ve got a special skill.
If you know me, you know I’m not exactly cotton candy and curly cues, I’m a little rough on people and on myself (at least that’s what my therapist is trying to get me to believe—Is it really that surprising that I have a therapist?)
I am by nature, a problem solver, a fixer, I like to patch things up and make them all better. I like to assess the situation and see what we can do to get it going, moving forward! In a very Jackson 5, “simple as do re mi, abc, 123, baby you and me!” kind of way. And maybe even sometimes in a Suze Orman, get your shit together, tough love kind of way.
But last week, I was overwhelmed and in full ugly cry mode, the kind of crying that causes blood vessels to break and your face to swell, and hugged my girlfriends and they said, “we get it, it’s ok.” That same night, I needed more soothing and called my Mustache man, let’s call him M for short, and he said, “I totally understand.” Finally, yesterday, I was chatting with my best girlfriend and she said, “I know how you feel.” And then there was silence, she just left a space for us to both feel.
There was: no solution finding, no ball busting because I was having a vulnerable moment, no cheerleader RA RA SIS BOOM BAH to get me through the moment. Just the words, “I understand,” and silence. With each encounter, it was like a warm blanket was thrown over me, like I was safe. Not being judged, just understood. It felt so good and I realized that while I may say the words, “I understand,” I hardly say, “I understand,” and then stop. I usually try to be the hero, and fix it right up!
Well, it’s probably too late to make a New Year’s resolution, and definitely too late to take it up for Lent; but I am resolving to curl up next to my friends, intently listen with empathy, and provide a safe space.
Empathy is letting someone know that you understand: what they’re feeling, going through, the pain, the embarrassment, the joy, elation even, from the trivial to the grave. Having empathy for people makes them feel less alone, and comfortable, like they can let their guard down. And why wouldn’t you want to do that?
I understand how you feel, what you’re going through, and you, my friend are safe with me.