How can we understand others better?

Can you really understand someone in terms of what she’s feeling, what behaviours she may adopt or what perceptions of the world she might have? To push the limits of human empathy, it may be helpful to consciously ignore everything you think you know about yourself and the ones around you and get curious again.

If we could all do that, the world would be a place where people lived in harmony, understanding each other’s inner worlds.

In reality, it’s more challenging to understand another human being on a deeper level, even those close to us! You may think that the longer you’ve known someone, the more evidence you have collected about what kind of a person she is. The historical facts show that she is decent and reliable.

Moreover, with the help of your empathic skills, you can feel how she feels and together you feel as one. But when you disapprove of her behaviour and get disappointed, you may feel that there is a world apart between you and her. Two close people turn into strangers.

You may not be aware of the fact that the disagreement regarding a particular behaviour can be rooted in moral values, cultural beliefs and other social conditioning that we are raised with and affects what we like and how we perceive the world.

Therefore, if we truly want to understand others, we need to become aware of our personal conditioning. For example, in Western cultures, when someone dies, it can be considered disrespectful if the close family of the departed one are wearing other colour than black. In Asian cultures, people wear white at funerals, which symbolises passing into heaven.

Now, what would happen if at a Western funeral, the wife of the deceased man wore red? Probably the rest of the close family would stop talking to her.

Getting rid of our conditioning may be a mission close to impossible for some of us. It may require years of meditation and spiritual search, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Alternatively, we can try to understand other people needs and desires and how they change over time. We do have the empathic skills that can be practiced to ask the appropriate questions about what others like and how they see the world. Once we are informed in this respect, we can learn to accept them without any judgement.

Maybe the widow wanted to express through red the intensity of her love for her dead husband? Or that she will still love him beyond death?

Above all, what counts the most is to look beyond behaviour and feel the true nature of a person. If the widow has a truly compassionate and loving nature, which reflected in the relationships with the rest of the family, then maybe the family members will focus on her affection and be less judgemental about her red garment.

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Why we should be more careful about judging others

Being judgemental about everyone and everything that happens around us limits our abilities to understand the diversity among the human beings. Judging the behaviour of neighbours, work colleagues or friends in front of others with whom we are in close relationships can be a personal choice to maintain the bond with those close to us. Even more, women who gossip are happier, according to a study at the University of Michigan. But, being judgemental with the loved ones can ultimately affect negatively everyone involved.

I doubt there is a human being who likes to be judged. At least, I and the persons that I know dislike to hear criticism from others regarding our actions and behaviours.

Why does it bother us to hear that we did something wrong in other person’s opinion? Are we afraid that our freedom of expression is being constrained? After all, it’s simply a point of view expressed by someone. Whatever the reason, we do get hurt by criticism and without being aware, we fight judgement with judgement.

Everybody is fast at judging others, and I am not an exception. It is human to observe and form opinions about the people around us, and especially those close to us will hear more of these opinions with less sugar coating. For example, a wife can tell to her husband, “You did wrong when you didn’t inform me about being late”.

The Bible strongly advocates for not judging others, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” (Luke 6:37), “who are you to judge your neighbour.“(James 4:11-12)

“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:1-13)

The point of reference for judging is our inner world of beliefs, principles, and emotions. When other people actions don’t fit with our reality, we disapprove them.

We could try to refrain from speaking out loud our judgemental thoughts, especially to those people close to us. But if our tongues are tingling with words of judgement and we speak our mind, it’d be for everyone’s best to do it with reservation and with the presumption that our opinions are not the objective truth.

In the above example, when the wife scolds her husband for not informing that he’d be late, it would make a huge difference for the mood of both of them if she humbly assumed that she does not have complete information about what happened in her husband’s mind and what experience he had. So, she would be wiser if she asked, “So, what happened?”

Instead of snappy judgement, we could give credit to the other one that he acted based on his best abilities at that time. We empower the people we love when we show them that we trust them to manage their lives the best they can.

Admittedly, we would behave differently in the same situation, but everyone reacts in their unique way to the same event.

Therefore, by spelling out our judgements on the loved ones puts us on a higher moral ground and belittles their abilities to manage their life. This may result in relationship conflict where negative emotions, such as the sense of disapproval take time to sort out.

Relationships improve when we accept the differences in behaviour and actions between us and the loved ones. Asking questions with empathy and compassion sharpen our insight into the world of others and help us see that there is richness in looking at life through the lens of others.

Next time when we are tempted to be judgemental, let’s first try to understand the other one and then judge. If after understanding her husband the wife still wants to express her opinion, she could say, “I would have felt better if you called.”

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Time to take, time to give


Which Do You Prefer: Kissing or Hugging Your Friends?

For the last ten years, I have been living in a multicultural environment in which I had to learn new ways to behave with friends. For example, when I meet a friend, I need to remind myself in what country I am so that I adapt the appropriate behaviour: kiss on both cheeks or give a hug around the neck.

The culture in my home country is to kiss friends on both cheeks. When I moved to the country of adoption, of course I started comparing how friends express affection towards one another! Of course, I interpreted the hugging around the neck as a sign of less affection, especially when the person hugging me would keep the rest of the body slightly farther from my body. I longed after kissing on cheeks as a sign of affection towards friends.

Darwin conjectured that kissing is innate in our genes. To date, scientists have not been able to conclude whether kissing is a learned behaviour for affection or whether we kiss out of instinct (Sheril Kirshenbaum, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us). Hugging may have a similar innate tendency.

Instinctively, our bodies know better that kissing and hugging have health benefits, as the research shows. Hugging seems to increase the levels of oxytocin and reduce blood pressure ( Women seem to get more health benefits from hugging than men, the research does not tell why. Maybe because women are more needy of affection? Maybe.

Children in particular are in need of affection. According to intelligence researcher Jay Gordon, co-author of “Brighter Baby”, children who receive long hugs each day, are smarter (

Romantic kissing was proven to relax the brain, reduce stomach and bladder infections, and relieve pain, just to name a few of the benefits ( I could not find any study on what kind of health benefits the kiss on the cheeks has. I would argue that kissing on the cheeks has the psychological benefit of boosting the self-esteem. Isn’t that a wonderful feeling when you are reminded that you have friends who love and respect you?

Taking a closer look at the ‘kiss on the cheek’ culture, with disappointment I came to realise that sometimes the kisses were theatrical. So, the years spent in the multicultural environment, opened my eyes to these two types of non-verbal communication of affection between friends and put an end to my longing after kissing on the cheek. In the end, I guess that both kissing and hugging can convey affection in an equal manner provided the underlying feeling is sincere.

Beyond the cultural norms, showing affection to friends is a question of personal preference. Some may be more comfortable with kissing, others with hugging. Some may prefer both, while others would skip both. It depends on how comfortable each of us is with showing our affection. And as long as we do it from the heart, the health benefits are guaranteed. How many of the hugs and kisses that we receive during one day are sincere? Let’s do the counting in our silent corner, shall we?

BTW Merry Christmas to You! 🙂