I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. – From Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
I’ve been meaning to write a post about this quote since I read Ender’s Game (which was last February, according to Goodreads), and a few things brought it to mind again recently. I didn’t love the book; it was a good book, but it left me emotionally nauseous in a way that generally only real life tragedy stuff can accomplish. But I did love the very ending, where the concept summarized in that quote came into play.
Understanding people is incredibly important. It’s not easy. Sometimes people don’t want to be understood. Sometimes people are really different than you are and they can seem impossible to understand. Sometimes you don’t have a close enough connection with people to be able to get to know them enough to understand them.
But you should always try. Because that quote is right; when you understand another person, it’s hard to not love them. It’s even hard to not like them, or at least like some aspects of them.
Maybe that’s part of the reason God loves the people that we have trouble loving; he always knows the why in their life, not just the what.
I think a desire to understand people is the reason villains – fictional and nonfictional – have intrigued me for a long time. Most mothers don’t hold their newborn babies and hope and expect that the child will turn out to be someone who consistently makes wrong choices. So what leads some people down that path?
The short story that is probably the best thing I’ve ever written was created because I wanted to explore this concept. I took a man (named Richard) who, seemingly inexplicably, shot another man in cold blood, and I let him tell the reader why. I have a lot of characters in my head, but Richard is one of the ones for whom I have a soft spot.
Understanding is not the same as condoning actions. It’s not even the same as forgiveness, though it makes forgiveness a lot easier. Even though I’m fond of Richard, and even though I know why he did what he did, I still know that he was wrong to murder another man, and I still recognize that he deserved to be punished.
Still. Next time you have trouble liking someone, try to see the why behind their actions, not just the what. It helps a lot.