Written by: Anthony Hall

Perhaps the biggest lie a person can say is, “I understand.” It’s a lie we tell so often that we no longer pay it much thought. When someone dies, we say, “I understand you are hurt.” When someone is angry, we quip, “I understand you are angry,” right before we begin telling them why they are wrong and proving how much we do not understand in the process. 

The purpose of Orphic was to be a place where people can share their research in a world that seems to have lost its ability to tell fact from fiction. So, instead of adding to the chorus of people who are outraged about what happened to our nation’s capital, I thought I would take this time to attempt to move the conversation forward. What happened was unacceptable. Of course, there are disparities; there is no question that if Decedents of African Slaves broke into the Capitol, there would be more than five causalities.

I hope that we can move from anger and pointless point making to solutions. In this brief paper, I will provide three solutions that, coupled with not having a president leading a war against the country he vowed to protect in the White House, can prevent what happened last Wednesday from happening again.

First, stop pretending you know what other people feel. It’s a hard truth, but we need to stop using the phrase “I understand.” The truth is none of us understand what causes a person to do the things they do; the only thing we can do is to listen to understand. However, when you look at someone’s actions and then purport to know who they are and what their modus operandi is, you are hurting your cause. 

No one wants to have someone else tell them who they are. A study at Princeton University (“Speaker-Listener Neural Coupling Underlies Successful Communication,” by Charles G. Gross, June 19, 2010) found that there is a lag between what you hear and what you understand. Depending upon the individual, it could be between a few seconds or a minute; this is where the trouble starts. 

During that lag-time, we begin to listen to ourselves and not to the other person. As a result, our comprehension plummets. If we were, to be honest, most of our understanding began to nose dive 13 years ago. In 2008, the United States citizens built an invisible wall down the middle of our country, and somewhere along the lines, we thought we could break down that wall by ignoring each other, canceling each other, or using unhelpful phrases such as “I understand.”

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” When you cancel people, label people, judge people while decrying judgmental people, you are planting seeds of hate, anger, and discontentment. And after planting those seeds, you say, “I understand.” When we tell people who they are instead of listening, we are laying seeds. 

Don’t be surprised or shocked when those seeds turn into something that you don’t like. 

Lastly, you are not going to lecture someone into agreeing with you. It doesn’t work like that; if you want someone to hear you, you need to listen. Think about it. You and someone have an opposing view, and you argue. You pretend to listen to what your friend is saying, but what you’re doing is thinking about the weakness in her argument so you can disprove it.

 Or perhaps, if she is in the process of debunking a previous point, you’re thinking of new counter-arguments. Or, maybe, you’ve made it personal: it’s not just her argument that’s the problem. It’s her. And everyone who agrees with her. If you find yourself in a conversation doing most of the talking, more than likely, you are not having a conversation. Everyone wants to be seen, heard, and know that they matter. 

If you are fighting with someone, it’s because you or the other person does not feel seen, heard, or as if you mattered to them. You are not going to make that person feel heard by telling them what you think and feel. You have to listen and be willing to accept what they think and feel.

Of course, what happened was sad. I hope we recognize that there is a choice to be made. We can complain about what happened, criticize the people we don’t understand for it happening, lecture each other, or we can get to the root of the issue. What is the heart of the problem? I am not sure; however, I know our country will not find it by screaming, yelling, and labeling one another. 

I hope you agree; however, if you don’t, I understand.