Understanding Others

Page 19 of the A.A. big book says- “Most of us sense that real tolerance of other people’s shortcomings and viewpoints and a respect for their opinions are attitudes which make us more useful to others.”

Much of our day involves communicating with others. Sometimes people express views that may go against ours. We may be tempted to react by disagreeing or arguing. Other times they may express strong emotions or treat us poorly. We may feel the urge to react and lash out. If we fight back we may destroy our chances of being helpful. If we do nothing and just take it- we may get angry, become resentful, judge them or talk behind their backs. What can we do?

The following practice is a neutral approach to accept others without having to agree or disagree with them- A.A. calls it “understanding rather than being understood.” Pg. 101 Twelve & Twelve. It prevents us from retaliating or taking things personally.

Here is the practice:  We show others that we understand them. We pause & get calm (by focusing on our breathing) and tell them in our own words what we hear them saying.

For example: If a person says “You don’t do enough in A.A.” rather than defending our position we tell them what we heard them say- “You think I should do more service work”.

Another example: Someone says “I think speaker meetings are the worst!” We might say “You don’t like them.”

Be calm and concise when you feed back what they are expressing.

Staying calm, listening and telling them what we hear removes the temptation to agree or disagree with their view. We don’t have to react and oppose or take things personally. It places us in a position of neutrality where we can accept them- while remaining safe and protected.

Again, the practice is- we simply remain calm & tell them in our own words what we hear them saying.

This practice keeps us from trying to “fix” them. It also protects us from their emotions or views. This works especially well when people are expressing anger toward you, being mean to you, trying to tell you what to do or that your views and feelings are wrong. Remember, they may be emotionally disturbed in the moment and that emotional power may be exploding their thoughts and hijacking their story. It’s nothing personal. We are neutralizing the situation rather than feeding into it.