The Risk Involved In Really Understanding a Person

Carl Rogers is one of the world’s most famous psychologists. (Carl Rogers is also an excellent name for a donut company — NEW BUSINESS IDEA: Start donut company called Carl Rogers).

In his book, On Becoming a Person, Carl Roger’s speaks about the importance of permitting ourselves to really understand another person.

Very often, we hear someone say something. And our immediate reaction (whether we verbalize it or not) is to pass a judgment.

“That’s stupid.” “That’s wrong.” “That’s not very nice.”

And here’s where Rogers puts out this absolute golden nugget.

I believe that understanding is risky. If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change.

Carl Rogers made the point for therapists — to goad them into not sitting by passively as they listen to their patients. However, I believe that the point he made is applicable to all of us.

To illustrate this point, I’d like to turn to this scene from the 1982 Bollywood Classic Shakti.

There are two protagonists in this scene. The father is a principled police inspector. The son is a man who is not too fond of the law.

The father asks the son as to why he has not reported a particular crime at the police station. The son says that he doesn’t need the police to protect himself.

Now, here’s an opportunity for the father to ask himself: Why does my son harbor these negative thoughts about my profession? Why does he mistrust the police? Is it because, when he was kidnapped as a child, and his kidnapper asked for a prisoner to be freed in exchange for his life, I refused because I didn’t want to compromise my principles?

If he had asked these questions of himself, he would have come to a realization.

My son loves me. He feels I value my profession more than him. Hence, he hates my profession. And maybe this is telling me something? Maybe I’ve been viewing this whole law and order things the wrong way. Maybe everything is not black and white.

But he doesn’t take pause. He doesn’t take the risk of understanding. And why would he? This black and white perspective is something he has believed in for his entire life life. If he changed, then he could very well end up feeling that his entire life was a failure.

Instead of taking the time to understand his son, here’s what he says (from 7:17 -7:27 in the video below.”)

If you continue to think about the law as you have been thinking, then it could be, that today or tomorrow, you might get into serious trouble.

It’s a self fulfilling prophesy (isn’t every prophesy a self-fulfilling one?”) He kills his son at the end of the movie.  A scene where the father and the son finally confess that they love each other.

The lesson? The next time someone says or does something, don’t react instantly with a judgment born out of your experiences. Permit yourself to understand that other person. That way, it’s a lot more likely, you’re not going to be shooting that particular person at an airport years down the road.


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