We Want to be Understood

I have lived in Britain all of my life, and am sad that Oprah Winfrey is not a more dominant part of our lives and television as she is in America. Today I was pointed to her inspirational Harvard Commencement speech this year in May. This speech is wholly worth listening to…

…the single most important lesson I learned… was that there is a common denominator in our human experience… we want to be validated. We want to be understood. I’ve done over 35,000 interviews… and as soon as that camera shuts off everyone always turns to me and inevitably in their own way asks this question: “Was that ok?” I heard it from President Bush. I heard it from President Obama. I’ve heard it from heroes and from housewives. I’ve heard it from victims and perpetrators of crime… was that ok? Did you hear me? Do you see me? Did what I say mean anything to you?.. No matter what challenges or setbacks or disappointments you may encounter along the way, you will find true success and happiness if you have only one goal… to fulfill the highest most truthful expression of yourself. Theologian Howard Thurman said… “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs! Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

When I started my first year at university in October 2012, one of my lecturers, Robert Pope, presented me with a question to ponder. “Is there a universal human characteristic?” And this question has in fact played in my mind constantly over the year. It has worked it’s way into the heart of my dissertation plans and into the heart of my conversations with people that I do not know or that seem particularly different from me.

At first I could not think of anything other than our biology. But of course we have different genes. We in fact share around 50% with bananas, 60% with fruit flies, and 95% with chimpanzees. My first thought at the beginning of the year was that we share a species. I couldn’t say that we shared a love of anything in particular, because we are all different. And not all of us seem to desire peace; whilst psychologists dispute that at heart all human beings seek peace and stability and their surroundings have damaged them, others say that human beings are instinctually aggressive and defensive. And a lot of people see close blood relatives as meaning more than the general population, next comes friends, next comes community groups, next comes countries.

I thought that we were all inhabits of earth. But that didn’t really mean anything because people treat the planet differently. And still these biological points do not seem particularly wonderful characteristics to focus in on. I wanted to think of something we share that comes closer to the heart, that is perhaps more romantic and joyful. That would give brokenness hope to heal.

Next I thought of expression. And this was where I really started to get excited in my studies. I thought of how throughout the ages we have expressed ourselves creatively, in art, in literature, in film, in music, in body language, in words… we seek to express ourselves and communicate. We want to communicate. And we want to try to express what it is that we are experiencing, what we feel and think, yet we continue to reach and push ourselves because the world is so vast.

A few weeks ago I watched Waking Life, which included a philosophy which found that the universal characteristic is the desire for a spiritual communion. And I think that this is right. In expressing ourselves, we want to connect with people. On some higher level that we cannot quite seem to define (and so continues our art and exploration), we want to commune in this space with others. As Oprah Winfrey puts in her Harvard Commencement Speech: “We want to be understood.” And I think we all do.

Peace my brothers and sisters. Love to you all.

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor… Where charity and love are, God is there. Christ’s love has gathered us into one…

I’m preaching again this Sunday (23 June 2013) in St Michael & All Angels Bramhall at 10am. For those who can’t make it I will be posting audio and script on my blog on Sunday. The topic will be on letting go of pain, remembering who we are, being open to the world, and being healed…

The latest post from the blog of Trystan Owain Hughes (author of The Compassion Quest) is also recommended: Beyond the stained-glass windows: Radical compassion and our everyday lives

…Referring directly to compassion, the New Testament in fact uses two different Greek words. The first word is eleeo, which is primarily used by those who appeal to Jesus for healing. The second word, splanchnizomai, expresses a deeper and more passionate form of compassion. In modern parlance it could literally be translated ‘to be moved in one’s guts’, and is used for Jesus’ own reaction to those who are pleading for healing. Jesus, therefore, responds to those who plea for basic compassion (eleeo) with a compassion that is intimate and intense (splanchnizomai). The pain and suffering of others engenders not merely superficial sympathy in Jesus, but rather affects him in the core of his being. Jesus was compassion incarnate…

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2 Responses to We Want to be Understood

  1. Simon Marsh says:

    Beautiful, inspiring, hopeful post. Thanks so much. And I was wowed by both Oprah & Trystan Owain Hughes. I must look up Waking Life

  2. Pingback: A Developing Philosophy | Growing up with God

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