No one cares if you “understand”. And “understanding” a situation doesn’t change it.
Sit there for a moment and contemplate that. Yes, I know you want to argue. Probably to tell me I’m not “understanding” enough.
Don’t. Just sit there and absorb it for a few seconds.
What “understanding” can do is help you decide how — and even if — you’re going to react. But it doesn’t change the situation or the people or phenomena you’re reacting to in any way.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: a co-worker tracks me down late one day in the building where we both work. I’m in a technical lab that’s not visible from their desk and require a key card to get into, so they have to search for me and pass through a locked door to find me.
Upon finding me, they stand before me — literally wringing their hands — about news stories detailing how much money corporate CEOs take home versus how much the lowest payed people in those corporations take home. And they can’t “understand” it. They’re hoping I can help them “understand” it.
They talk to to me for ten godforsaken minutes about how they can’t “understand” how those corporate CEOs can justify that to themselves and they can’t “understand” how those people can live with themselves for being so selfish.
Now here’s something else I want you to consider. To absorb and think about for a few seconds, before the protests begin.
I am not a god. Neither are you.
Each day, I have a limited and finite amount of time and energy. I was actually in that technical lab for a reason. A reason that had nothing to do with helping someone “understand” the motives of other people who don’t even know we exist and quite frankly, don’t much care if we exist or not.
That co-worker was there at work that day too. For a reason that I’m pretty sure had nothing to do with them finding someone to help them “understand” news stories that were totally unrelated to their job.
I’ll take any bet and any wager anyone wants to place that our respective managers weren’t signing off on our paychecks with the thought that we’d be spending our time (and their money) searching for “understanding”.
I told some of this to my co-worker. And also told my co-worker that regardless of whether they “understood” or not, the CEOs in question didn’t care. I told my co-worker if they really cared that much about it personally, then join groups that were pressuring those companies about their CEOs’ pay. Or call up the company itself and say “I don’t like how imbalanced your company’s wage structure is and I’m not going to buy anything you make. I’m going to tell all my friends not to buy anything from you either, and I’m going to call television shows you advertise on to tell them I won’t watch their show as long as they have you for an advertiser.”
But standing there nattering at me about whether they or I “understand” other people’s actions does nothing but spend time and energy that neither I nor my co-worker will ever get back.
I’ll reiterate that.
Spending copious amounts of time and energy worrying about whether you “understand” someone else’s motives or thoughts does nothing but waste copious amounts of time and energy.
Here’s another example. This one is kind of ugly. Please bear with me.
A son in a family goes into business with people he shouldn’t have. Their business is in an industry that frequently deals with government contracts. The area they’re in has lots of businesses of this type.
The people he shouldn’t have done business with decide they haven’t made vastly more money than he has and decide that’s not right. So they tell a government attorney the person they’re dealing with is defrauding the government. Either the son pays these people to shut up, or they get paid for being whistleblowers by the government. Either way they win.
The case goes to trial and now the whole family’s involved, son, mother, father, and two other sons too. The accusations and investigation have spread from the son’s own business to the family business, of which the son is part. Unfortunately for the fortunes of our whistleblowers, the jury finds the family not guilty.
Not so fast, says the government attorney. I’m still sure fraud has occurred. We’ll pursue this through administrative measures.
Something like six . . . or maybe even eight years since the original complaint was made, and multiple years after a jury said “Not Guilty”, the family is still fighting these administrative measures. The lawyer fees are getting to be more than they can afford, but the fines they’re looking at will bankrupt them outright. So they can’t afford not to fight.
In the course of discovery, subpoenas, etc., there is correspondence from the government attorney saying that if he can get a guilty verdict in this, he will use the precedent as an excuse to open a fraud investigation of every business of that type in the state.
So there’s lots of other business owners in this industry in this state who are worried about this case. Local newspapers, hearing about the concern, have offered to have interviews and do news stories about this. Some of the agencies involved in these “administrative measures” are state agencies and are thus overseen by state boards. State legislators could be lobbied about this case, possibly to write some legislation clarifying the law.
The family has contacted a college professor who was instrumental in writing the original federal program they are accused of defrauding. He is livid because the family did nothing wrong and was using the program the way it was meant to be used.
And don’t forget, when it actually went before a judge and jury, years ago, the jury said the family was not guilty of fraud.
I spent two hours talking with the mom and dad and another son of this family one evening, years after the case had started.
Did we talk about the interviews they had given local newspapers explaining their plight? Did we talk about them getting together with other local business owners to lobby their state representatives to clarify some of the legislation — and maybe even ask the government attorney what the hell he was doing pursuing a case he’d already lost once in court? Did we talk about any course of action in any way, other than me tossing out the occasional idea and them explaining why they weren’t going to do that?
Oh hell no. We spent two solid hours discussing why they couldn’t “understand” why this attorney wouldn’t leave them alone. I heard “we just can’t understand” so many times I was contemplating driving to the nearest hardware store just to buy a shovel so I could smack the next person who said “we just can’t understand” in the face with it.
Well, there was one exception. One person there that day did “understand”. Or claimed they did. It was all the fault of President Bush and the Patriot Act. I am not kidding. The case started years before 2001, the government attorney had been appointed by one of President Bush’s predecessors, yet there was one person there that night who every 20 minutes would start saying the whole situation was hopeless, there was nothing they could do, it was all because of President Bush and the Patriot Act.
So, faced with possible loss of a family business, complete financial ruin, at the hands of a government attorney who had already lost a jury trial and still was pursuing the case years later through “administrative measures”, and the primary topic of discussion was how they couldn’t “understand” why this attorney would do this.
I started by throwing out some speculation about various possible motives, but after the first half hour of “we just can’t understand” I realized that was helping nothing.
When you are in a fight, you are either in it to win it or you are out of it. There is no hanging around in the middle ground worrying about whether or not you “understand” the other person.
Your “understanding” should cover what you’re trying to accomplish, whether the fight is worth it or if it’s better to walk away, if you are going to fight then what is victory and how far you will and won’t go to achieve that victory, what losses are and are not acceptable, and maybe even how long you think you’ll be able to keep up the fight at current levels of effort.
If you have the time, you can try to guess what your opponent’s possible and likely next moves will be and plan how you will counter your opponent in those situations. You can try to “understand” your opponent’s strategy and tactics if it will help you plan your own. That’s it.
None of this fantasy-land “if I just ‘understand’ why this is happening, it will all go away”. It won’t.
A true “understanding” today — which is quite rare and some things can never be fully “understood” — does not guarantee a true “understanding” tomorrow. A false “understanding” today will probably lead to bad decisions today and might lead to overconfidence and lack of flexibility tomorrow.
Life is unpredictable. People are unpredictable. The world is unpredictable. Computers and people on computers can be really unpredictable.
Sometimes things happen that only make sense in hindsight. Sometimes things happen that make no sense, even with tons of hindsight. Look up “Flash Crash”, the various theories behind it, the official “understanding” of what happened, and look at Zero Hedge to find out the various small flash crashes that keep happening, even though everyone says oh no, they don’t happen anymore, we “understood” what happened and using our “understanding”, we fixed it.
The possibility that something unexpected could happen and might not be explained at the time and might even not ever be explained is actually pretty scarey when you think about it. No one likes to admit unforeseeable events of an unknown nature could be lurking around the next corner, so we all like to convince ourselves that really, those unforeseeable things can’t happen because we “understand” the world too well. We “understand” other people too well. And if something unforeseen does happen, well, we’ll just figure out what happened and once we “understand”, we’ll be able to predict it next time.
Sometimes it works that way, sometimes it doesn’t. Figuring out what you can do and are or aren’t going to do to prepare for unpleasant surprises is a lot more productive than sitting around worrying about how much you “understand”.