How trying to understand others can be hugely beneficial – and not just for writers

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“As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.”

The other night I came across this quote from Ernest Hemingway. I read it, flicked past it, and then flicked back. I started pondering over it before I pressed ‘Save’. There was so much truth in this, the fact that, as a writer penning a story, anything involving a character, you need to immerse yourself into whoever you are telling the story through. You also need to be able to understand the viewpoint of characters you don’t like or would never agree with in real life, and that is a huge conflict and very difficult. But, as I have learnt and appreciated from many great writers, a villain is only a good and convincing “baddy”, if you get close to them and get an insight into their thinking, even if you detest them and would want to give them a piece of your mind if you could.

It then got me thinking about how useful this ability of being emphatic and understanding is in real life. Many sayings such as “Treat everyone how you would like to be treated yourself”, or “Try walking in someone else’s shoes” advocate that empathy and tolerance are great characteristics to champion. And if we are talking about loved ones and people that are close to us, it’s not so tough. Dare I claim, especially us women are masters of tolerating and understanding. For example, if a friend of mine cancels because she feels overwhelmed and needs some time to herself, then I get that, because we all feel like this sometimes. It resonates. We get it. But what about those (hopefully few) people around us whose only purpose is to make our lives miserable? The nemesis that, for whatever reason, you can’t just dispose of? How can we learn to see things from their point of view, without judging?

My instant reaction was that it would be difficult. If you can’t see eye to eye with someone, how are you supposed to understand their viewpoint? However, I then realised that I had been doing this since I can remember. Trying to see things from anyone’s perspective, even those few I loathe, makes me usually question everything, and I don’t just ignorantly think that my way is the highway. Whereas I feel this is one of my noble attributes, it’s sometimes really not helpful to question yourself when someone else is just being a plain arsehole. It takes a lot of thinking, considering, evaluating and re-thinking, before you then return to your viewpoint and realise that it’s all very well trying to understand someone’s shitty attitude, but that sometimes you just have to move them and their stinkers to the ‘Fuck-it’ bucket.

One of the delightful side effects of immersing yourself into someone else’s way of thinking is the fact that you start turning into an oracle, developing the ability to read people like books, predicting their reactions or actions with quite frightening accuracy. Whilst it is exhausting trying to understand a human dung beetle, what a fantastic way to always be one step ahead of their crap. Now if that alone isn’t reason enough to practice understanding each other a little bit more…

In any case, just think how much conflict and how many arguments and misunderstandings could be prevented if everyone tried to be a bit more understanding and stopped to think for a moment before judging and lashing out. I know, some people and their actions don’t deserve it, but those who do – why not give them the benefit of the doubt? Whether you’re a writer or not, understanding one another could be the key to a much more peaceful life – and a brighter future in general.

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