There is a difference between understanding and condoning. I can understand why people do things. I can understand why people hurt other people, why people steal, why people beat their partners, and why people use drugs to escape from reality. I understand. It doesn’t mean I condone their behavior or agree with it.
One of the problems I see is that people don’t understand, and people think that understanding will mean condoning. Understanding isn’t about making their behavior OK. Understanding is knowing that people have knowledge that people do things for reason, and it isn’t just because they are bad people. Understanding is knowing that addiction isn’t about a lack of motivation, or bad will power. Addiction is about how the brain works and how people’s brain respond to chemicals in the brain, and that overcoming addiction isn’t having more will-power, it is about learning how to manage how the brain responds to situations and chemicals and fighting your own brain.
Understanding is knowing that the person that is abusing the kids in his neighborhood and his own kids has his own history, not necessarily of sexual abuse but of emotional abuse or trauma of some sort and isn’t because he or she is a sick perverted asshole with no soul. It doesn’t make the behavior OK. It just means that I understand how they got to where they are.
Understanding doesn’t mean that it makes what a person does OK. Some people find a place and learn that their chemistry or their history or their shoe size affects who they are and how they act and figure out how to move around those facts. I have ADD. I didn’t know this as a child, and it affected how I moved through school and through life. When I was in graduate school I learned about ADD, and I understood why when I was 7 I got bored completing standardized testing and created designs with the bubbles, and my parents had to fight a label of mentally retarded. Because of the expectations around me and my desire to fit in I figured out how to manage with but never knew why I struggled so much to do what seemed to come easily to others. Now I know that I learned how to work with a disability. Sometimes well and sometimes not, but I learned. It is something I won’t be able to change, It is something that I have to manage. So when I look at others that struggle I understand. I understand the struggle of managing something you can’t control.
Understanding doesn’t mean condoning unpleasant, hurtful, or inappropriate behavior. In my situation I had to learn how to move around something that in some circumstances is helpful, but in our world isn’t. I work with some people where understand why they are hateful, angry, and dangerous. I also know that if they want to, they can learn to live with their brain chemistry, their trauma, or their past and manage. It takes desire, will power, and a willingness to not only accept who they are but to find ways to work with who they are, and still be the best they can be.
It takes work. It isn’t easy to watch the people that move through life easily and know that we have to fight. We have to fight through abuse, through brain chemistry, and through life experience that makes life harder. Some people either don’t have the same problems, or just move through life easier. For whatever reason, they don’t have the same experiences, the same brain chemistry, or it is just easier for them to move through. We compare ourselves to them and think we aren’t enough. We think that we should be better. Ad that is BS. I fight to make it through a text book. It is torture, and I read 10 pages to realize that I stopped paying attention 8 pages ago. It will take me and hour to do something that it will take a non ADD person 20 minutes to do. It is a success for me when I make it through a book, or do the task and get it done; no matter how long it takes. I know what is a success for me, and I celebrate it. I also fight for my successes, and work to manage the shame that someone else wouldn’t have to fight nearly as hard as I do. My successes are my successes, and I won’t let the fact that someone else doing them would have done them faster or better any less of a success for me.
I also won’t hesitate to protect myself from those that won’t fight to be the best they can be. I can understand the kids that get pulled in to Neo- Nazi lifestyles. In general they feel outcast and unloved and they work to not only find people that at least act like they love them, but give them the chance to say that others are as horrible as they are. I can understand them, that doesn’t mean I am going to let them run around wreaking havoc. I can understand them and I still need to protect myself and my loved ones (and the world) from them. I understand how they moved through life, through abuse, through trauma, or just through chemistry to get where they are. I don’t condone their behavior and I will make damn sure that I do what I can to protect the world from them.
Understanding and compassion have nothing to do with condoning a behavior. When you are able to clearly delineate between the two then you can make decisions. You can make decisions about celebrating your victories when you accomplish something that is difficult for you instead of beating yourself up for not doing it as well as someone else would have. You can decide what your values are, and work your darndest to stick to them even when chemistry or history makes it hard. You can also let go of the judgement of others when you aren’t as awesome as they are, because they don’t have the roadblocks you have.
When you are able to clearly delineate between the two you can also have more compassion and understanding for those around you that struggle too. You can see where and when they are fighting their best, and celebrate their successes when they find their successes. You can also protect yourself when their best is still dangerous to you, your family, and the world in general. You can let yourself move away and create boundaries without feeling guilt or shame.
Each of us has obstacles that keep us from being out best. We all have our own individual battles that we fight on a daily basis. Some people, because of chemistry, trauma, or pain have more to struggle with than others. When they win their battles we celebrate with them. Those that don’t win their battles, that continue to hurt others or lose themselves in the disease of addiction destroying everything around themselves, we have to protect ourselves from them even when we have compassion, love and possibly understand them.
Understanding isn’t condoning bad behavior. Only you can decide what your values, beliefs, ethics and principles are, and only you can figure how to best live within them with your own stumbling-blocks. When you live within your values successfully, celebrate. Knowing that I can’t understand another person’s battle helps me let go of judgement and contempt, and I still protect myself from their behavior. I understand, and I still expect that I do my best, and that you do your best. And when I am with the best in me, and you are with the best in you, we can make a pretty awesome world.