“I Understand”—Do You?

Apr 17, 2021 | Articles, Passing Musings

By Amber Kinloch

I understand.

It’s a little phrase that pops up all the time in our daily conversations.  We mean well.  We wish to express our sympathy, to let people know they’re not alone, that we grasp what they’re dealing with.

But do we?

It’s one thing to use this phrase in connection with minor irksome things—dealing with bad traffic, for instance.  But how about when we get on to bigger issues?  Think of a major illness, conflicts in relationships, a difficult family member, etc.

It’s so easy to say, “I understand,” without really doing so because we’re not the person dealing with the matter at hand.  Whoever’s struggling is different from us.  They have their own unique situation, pressure points, etc.  Just because I’ve dealt with the same issue or something similar doesn’t mean I understand.

Take depression.  Postpartum depression is different from chronic depression, or depression induced by loneliness or a traumatic experience.  There are also different stages to depression which vary in intensity.  You can’t just say that because you’ve dealt with it that you understand what another’s suffering.

Another issue: How often do we say, “I understand,” only to add: “I’ve dealt with ___ too.  It’s so tough.  I never thought I’d get through it.”

Look at what’s happened.  The conversation has shifted to being focused on yourself rather than the other person.  Hardly sympathetic.

Let’s take care, then, to check and see if we’re really listening.  Affirm rather than presume.  Instead of saying, “I understand,” say, “That’s hard.”

Try to keep quiet.  Don’t worry about speaking.  Body language says plenty—a nod, the look in your eyes, squeezing somebody’s hand….

Above all, be present.  That’s the best gift you can give.

Amber Kinloch

Amber Kinloch

Amber  writes from the bunker of her living room.  There she hunkers down with her laptop and a blanket while keeping an eye and ear tuned in to the activity of family life.  Music set on loop keeps her energy flowing as she muses on the deeper happenings of ordinary life and what food to restock the fridge with.

Comments

Before commenting, please read through our comment guidelines.

0 Comments

St. Joseph's Shelf logo

Welcome to St. Joseph’s Shelf!

Are you looking for ways to apply your Faith to your daily life and become a saint? We publish practical Catholic reflections on ordinary life every Monday and Friday.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Get a monthly roundup of articles and other news about St. Joseph’s Shelf, plus email notifications about new content.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

You Might Like...

The Parable of the Talents: When One is Worth More than Five

The Parable of the Talents: When One is Worth More than Five

You might be familiar with the parable of the three servants entrusted with different numbers of talents. The classic interpretation of this parable says that the talents represent our different gifts and abilities.  Some people have more, some less, but we’re all called to use our gifts for God. Recently I heard an alternative interpretation…

read more