Seek First to Understand

Society’s most important problems seem to be the most difficult to solve.

They are complicated. They often call for rational answers to irrational questions. They are as multifaceted as the people around whom they revolve.

But we don’t like complicated.

We are hardwired to simplify, to look for the familiar and extrapolate an entire truth from small bits of facts. This instinct keeps us alive in situations that demand quick decision making. Similarly, we as Americans are proud of our ingenuity; it is this ability to always be fixing, innovating and providing solutions that makes us who we are.

But this rush to fix and solve and know also cripples us in so many ways.

It leads to excess, bloated codes, and a nation of people so intent on moving forward that we refuse to learn from the past. More than that, we seem completely incapable of understanding.

Seek first to understand.

No argument can be resolved, no relationship healed, and no answers forged until the root of it all is first understood. You have no hope of swaying another’s opinion if you can’t empathize with where they currently stand. Likewise, you have no chance of addressing the plight of a society if you can only hear the half that sounds like you.

In the wake of the Newtown tragedy, I am shocked by all the certainty I see on Facebook and Twitter; the mass murder of children leaves me certain of nothing and questioning everything.

Yes, I question the legality of certain weapons. My personal experience and prejudices flare and I want to go door to door ridding at least my neighborhood of any potential harm to my children. But I think, too, of my brother-in-law and one of my best friends and her husband, people whom I admire and love – and who happen to really love guns. I know they would recoil at my fantasies of a gun-free nation, and so I try to reign in my knee-jerk reaction long enough to admit that I just don’t get it.

Why can’t more of us admit that we don’t get it?

How can so many people be so confident that they have the one solution to a complicated problem?

And yes, it is complicated, because the Second Amendment was meant to ensure that our own armies could not oppress us, and that’s not a possibility we can just ignore because we are now terrified of madmen.

We can’t walk away from complicated problems, but neither can we bully our way to solutions. We have to start listening. All of us. We have to wrap our heads around the idea that there are other perspectives to consider, that our neighbors are not morons.

I admit that is not always easy. I read some things and think there is no way a sane, rational, intelligent human being can actually believe the words on the screen. I struggle to comprehend positions that are far, far away from mine.

However, the bulk of us, I believe, are good people with good ideas and insights. We are, I think, more or less parts of the same whole, and we are capable of creating brilliant solutions.

But first, we must quiet our own voices and listen to those around us. We must seek to understand. It’s the only way out of the dark.

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  1. Law Momma says:

    I think, because in the wake of such a tragedy, some people just need to feel 100% certain of SOMETHING. Anything really… whether it’s prayer in school or gun control or mental health care… people need to be able to point to a quick fix that will prevent it from ever happening again.

    We, collectively, lie to ourselves so we can stand getting up in the morning and sending our own children to school. Or at least that’s what I think.
    Law Momma’s most recent post: Babies Don’t Keep

    • Miss Britt says:

      I think you are probably right. This weekend, I was railing in the car to my husband about all the things we SHOULD do to “fix” this. He, ever the voice of reason, quietly reminded me of all the things I was trying to ignore. In the end, I just slumped in my seat and admitted that I was so, so confused.

  2. Melissa says:

    “that our neighbors are not morons”…oh dear Lord, i wish everyone would make that their mantra.

    i do see both sides of the gun controversy…but that is only part of the issue…IMO…there is the mental health factor that we (i use “we” in a very sweeping way which makes me as guilty as the next person on their sweeping generalizations)choose to ignore…there is the “i am right and you are wrong and i will make a total ass of myself to prove it” mentality…

    it all makes my stomach churn…my heart breaks for the children, for the families of children…for our nation…for our society in general.

  3. Megan says:

    This just makes my head spin because I see both sides of the gun control argument (although it’s going to take a hell of a lot to help me understand why anyone needs military grade semi-automatic rifle and armor-piercing bullets), and I am certain we need better ways to help mentally ill people. What I am not certain of is what we should be doing.

    We should all take turns shutting up and listening.
    Megan’s most recent post: Move Along

  4. anymommy says:

    I love this. It certainly resonates with Friday’s awfulness, but it is the truth on so very many issues.

  5. Carly says:

    I am SO SO glad I am on a Facebook moratorium right now. Until I read this I didn’t even think about how Facebook would be twisting the knife for me.

  6. Kent says:

    Great advice, Britt. I have a feeling that, this time – finally, there will be an actual discussion about guns in our country.
    Kent’s most recent post: Off the Grid Ski Adventure

  7. vicki says:

    So difficult to quiet my rage and listen, but I will try. Really, really try. What else can we do but place one foot in front of the other. My heart is broken for these families and I am confident that with patience, change will indeed happen. But, you’re right, I sure as hell don’t get it. Not a damn thing about it.
    vicki’s most recent post: I Admire My Husband

  8. Becca says:

    I asked my wife, just now, because I don’t know and she should as she was an armorer in the Marine Corps, if anyone would use an AR-15 for hunting. She says no, of course not. So, if it cannot be used for hunting then my brain cannot comprehend why anyone would ever need or want one in their home.

    You are right, we must be quiet, and listen to both sides. But the part of me that wants this all to stop, wants to believe we are all better than this, is just sad. I want to hide my children away from the world and never let them go. But, more than wanting to hide them, I want them to be able to live safely in this world without fear. Sigh…

  9. D. Marie says:

    I feel like I only comment on your posts to tell you you’re reading my mind. I’m not ashamed to say this is another one of those instances.

    A few nights ago, my husband asked me why the media focus so much in the killer and not on those who lost their lives. I told him it’s the media’s/world’s way of trying to understand. But no one wants to do that. Not really. And it all ends up being sound bites of misinformation in a mad rush to be the first to break the story/details. It’s a vicious cycle.

  10. Lisa says:

    I love that you stop and consider all sides. I have stayed away from Twitter and practiced selective scrolling through Facebook because I just can’t with all the pontificating and soapboxing. It makes me sad when people are so sure they’re right. On both sides of the argument.
    Lisa’s most recent post: So I Went to Pittsburgh

  11. The only thing I am certain of is it is time for discussion.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: Would you by an eBook for your small child

  12. Susan says:

    I have been reading your blog for a long time now and love it, but I never comment since I read your posts on my phone (!) You are a thoughtful, honest, insightful writer who really forces me to think … but this time you really outdid yourself — I stopped dead in my tracks when I read this post. It was precisely what I needed to hear, as *I* was doing exactly what you described — in my desperate attempts to find some safety or certainly in the wake of the CT shooting, deciding that anyone who disagreed with my anti-gun stance (which I’ve long held) had to be a “moron”. I think I even used that word in one of the tirades that my poor husband had to hear. Your post made me stop and take a breath. Which is, as you so eloquently put, is what we all need to do if we want to find answers to the many, many issues we face as a society. It is incredibly tempting to think that there are simple answers to these complex issues that will “fix” everything … but of course deep down we know that there are rarely simple answers to anything. Thanks to you, my mindset has shifted not just on this issues, but on the many on which I tend to have strong opinions. Deciding that I will listen (really listen) and seek to understand the other side is truly profound. Thank you!!

  13. Liz says:

    I freely admit I have no answers. I’m only baffled, and grieving. This happened in my backyard, in the same town Mike proposed to me in. I hope nothing like this ever happens again, but the truth is it happens every day, all around the world. I don’t know why, and probably never will. I do know that against all of these terrors, I will only love harder.
    Liz’s most recent post: The Next Big Thing: If Juliet’s Father was a Nazi

  14. Sulagna says:

    “We can’t walk away from complicated problems, but neither can we bully our way to solutions.”. Biggest problem is – whose solution is it? What sounds like a solution to one, might be a nightmare to another. Happens in all societies…
    Sulagna’s most recent post: “Sex Has Got Nothing to Do with Love or Marriage”, Tamal Pal

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