Misunderstanding understanding

Hungary peace rally by Zsolt Szigetvary

AS WE BEGIN the first day of 2012, the year just gone isn’t that easy to let lie. Among the highs and lows of the Royal Wedding, Europe’s debt crisis and the host of natural disasters, ordinary civilians across the world took a dramatic stand for their human rights.

Uprisings ascended across the globe, from the surge of the Arab spring, the Occupy Movement that inhabited 82 countries, the English riots, to Anna Hazare’s hunger strike in India as a peaceful protest against the corruption of India’s government.

The underlying cause of such eruptions is the simple, yet complicated, concept of understanding. If power-hungry dictators and governments really understood – and cared about – the needs of their country’s people, we wouldn’t have to bear witness to the horrific advantages that they take and lives that they ruin.

It sounds basic, but at the root of all the conflict and tension in the world is misunderstanding.

If every individual understood the basic need to be considerate to one another, never impose harm on another human being and realised that at the heart of every person is the desire for peace, then the media would not be infiltrated with the blood that’s shed across a war-torn globe.

There wouldn’t be the need for people to go to extremes to forcefully express their frustrations and scream to get their voices heard. Because the reasons for their outcries would be understood.

Lost in translation

But the deeper problem than understanding one another is misunderstanding the understanding of ourselves. However we behave or treat each another on the outside is a reflection and translation of the conflict or peace that exists inside us.

Sigmund Freud, founder of Psychoanalysis, developed the theory of psychological projection, or projection bias, which states that human beings impose their unresolved inner conflicts or self-failure on to others.

This is because it is easier and more comforting to impose our misgivings on other people than to come to terms with the fact that they belong to and need to be dealt with by us.

Legendary Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh explained the concept of Nirvana, which is “the removal of wrong perceptions and notions” and the “ideas that serve the base of misunderstanding and suffering”. Essentially it is the “freedom from views;” the understanding that our perceptions screen the way in which we view other people and the world.

If everyone took the time and the effort to understand and pacify their inner demons, it would make a peaceful difference to the outside world. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Plan for peace

The solution may sound like a farfetched, idealistic, unrealistic world; but we tend to push ourselves further away from it instead of getting as close as we can.

It seems as though mankind finds it easier to throw up their fists, pull their triggers or explode bombs instead of looking inwards and waging a peaceful alternative.

Tony Benn, former Labour MP and Cabinet Minister, once said:  “…if we can plan for war we can plan for peace.” Yet, we seem to show a keener interest in blazing a trail for war.

Where’s the understanding? Buried underneath our battlegrounds and under our marching footsteps, too silent to be heard, as we glare menacingly at each other, instead of taking a long, hard look within.

Understanding is sorely misunderstood.


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