A More Excellent Way: Seek to Understand

Another important teaching from the ancients that seems to be neglected, despite all of the attention people give it, is the need to seek to understand others. This was even part of a chapter in the 7-Habits.

I still have a distinct memory from the fifth grade when I was in Mr. Jeppson’s class. Looking back I suspect he was committed to building his students’ character in addition to our skills with arithmetic, science, and language. He often cited historical figures and taught us moral lessons. A saying he used was “don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” At the time, I thought a mile was longer than I could walk. Perhaps might be why my memory of his lesson is so vivid.

But how often do we really try follow that advice?

I was reminded of this early today as I was reading in The New Testament, Hebrews 10:24 (KJV): “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works.” The word “consider” translated into English from Greek could also be “understand.” So it would read “And let us understand one another to provoke unto love and to good works.”

The first part of the sentence “let us understand one another” is clear — that we should seek to understand others. The second half of the sentence uses a word that’s not normally used with a positive connotation, “provoke,” but in this instance seems to elicit an immediate and powerful result — that of good works following when we seek to understand others.

Considering this verse in the context of today’s all too self-centered culture, one idea would seem to be missing — that of being understood. It makes no mention that if you first seek to understand others, then you’ll be understood. And that’s a great point. Just because you might seek to understand others does not guarantee that you’ll be understood. Reciprocity is not a natural law. However, a greater truth is revealed: regardless if you’re understood or not, love and good works will follow if you seek to understand others.

We can’t control what other people do, feel, or think. All we can do is control those things within ourselves. So first, we can control how we try to understand others. Then we’ll be provoked to more love for our fellow humans. And that will be the impetus for good works. Understanding is the catalyst to a virtuous action of love and selfless service, with no expectation of reciprocity (which is what true service is).