I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.”
We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.
For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love.
If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!
Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.”
Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.