Understanding > Knowledge

Knowing the difference between these two can make all the difference.

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Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic

Turn on your phone, open up your Twitter or Facebook apps, and scroll through your timeline for a few minutes. The vast majority of people are “Ready, Fire, Aim” when it comes to spewing facts and sharing their vast knowledge on any number of subjects. It’s very difficult for me to get on social media these days without getting immediately pissed off at people I’ve never met or engaged with properly. This seems to happen more often these days given our volatile societal and political climate. Now, I have been guilty of waving the “spew-a-bunch-of-facts-while-being-annoying-as-hell-on-social-media” flag so I’m not pointing fingers at anyone here. We have an abundance of knowledge but we are desperately lacking in understanding. Agreed?

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
—Albert Einstein

I mean, what’s the point of knowing anything at all if we aren’t willing to engage and try to understand people who don’t hold the same beliefs and opinions as we do? Knowing the difference between knowledge and understanding has always been critical. But it seems especially critical now with so much knowledge available to us and so many ways to publish and share this knowledge. 

Understanding is a vital key to success. It is not enough to simply know facts. It is not enough to be intelligent and book smart. It is definitely not enough to have a wall full of degrees at home. These are good for something but they will only take you so far.

“Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” —John Steinbeck

How can we grow in understanding? Here are a few ways I’ve found to be helpful.

1. Listen.
2. Listen some more.
3. Think deeply about what we’ve heard while listening.
4. Ask good questions.
5. Keep listening.
6. Maybe we are ready to speak at this point. We’ll know we are ready to speak when our words are bathed in humility and empathy, not arrogance and disdain for the person or people we are addressing.

Additionally, a very effective way to begin understanding other people is to take things offline. Novel idea, right? Now, we can’t do that with everyone. On social media, we’re mostly chatting with people in other cities, states, and countries. But that isn’t always the case. There are so many opportunities for us to put our phones down and meet someone at a local bar or coffee shop to chat about differing opinions and beliefs. Every time I do this, I’m amazed at how common ground we share. Or maybe we still leave the conversation with vastly different beliefs but, in most cases, our level of respect for each other increases.

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.” —Aristotle

So, pursue knowledge. Knowledge is good for something. It is good for a lot of things, in fact. But pursue understanding more. This is a much rarer trait and will set you apart as a leader and a changemaker, not simply a broadcaster of facts.

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