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How to Understand Others: Discussion Essay

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Updated: Oct 13th, 2021


People are social creatures and their existence is impossible without communication. The success of the latter is significantly determined by people’s abilities to understand others. This ability, in its turn, is closely connected to human desires to establish understanding. The current paper is concerned with the problem of how people can succeed in understanding others. Namely, the main point that we make here is that the way people understand others is determined by how free they feel from the imaginary caves they live in, how correctly they understand the metaphors they live by and how privileged they are in their society.

Main body

Going by Plato, we assume that all people are prisoners, they all live in the caves where rays seldom appear. As far as the allegory of the cave is concerned, we can suppose that there is a mutual interdependence: the more successfully the prisoners coexist, the better understanding of each other appears, and, vice versa, the better the prisoners understand each other, the happier they feel in the cave.

Plato’s work suggests that people in the cave are immobilized by the chains, their heads are forced to gaze in one direction only: the only thing they can see is a wall. Also, in the cave, there is a walkway along which puppets of various things move along and cause shadows in such away. Watching these shadows is the only occupation of the prisoners. When the puppets speak, their voices create echo and prisoners believe that the words come from the shadows. When they hear the words they start to name them as they come by. The sun influences the way the shadows are formed and this also impacts the way the prisoners percept the shadows. The prisoners understand each other only when they define whose skill in quickly naming the shadows is more perfect and whose is not worth attention at all.

We believe that the same happens in a real, not imagined Plato, world: people are so much restricted in their views on others’ patterns of behavior and too subjective in their judgments of others. This restriction and absence of impartiality prevent people from getting freedom in the most general sense of the word.

William Cronon’s view on qualities of the liberally educated person suggests several hints on how a better understanding of others can be achieved. According to him, liberally educated persons and, we assume, every one striving to understand others, should know how to listen and to hear. Cronon claims that such people know “how to pay attention to people and to the world around them. They work hard to hear what other people are saying. They can follow an argument, track logical reasoning, detect illogic, hear the emotions that lie behind both the logic and the illogic, and ultimately emphasize with the person who is feeling those emotions.” (Cronon) Further, he suggests that liberally educated people know how to talk to others. As we assume that an educated person is more responsible for establishing a better understanding than anyone else is, we take this advice as a rule for those who struggle to understand others. Paraphrasing Cronon we suppose that people have to learn how “to figure out what’s so neat about what the other person does.” (Cronon) To understand others people have to learn how to participate in various conversations “not because they like to talk about themselves, but because they are genuinely interested in the other person.” (Cronon)

We are inclined to think that these easy rules if followed properly, can contribute to people’s understanding of others. In this case, the interdependence stated above will fall into one direction only: the better people understand each other the better they feel in the society they live in.

Taking into account the findings of one more work presents significant importance for understanding others. This is George Lakoff’s study. It is titled simply but comprehensively: Metaphors We Live By (1980). The author admits that metaphors are effective tools that humans use to increase the effects of words. He claims that metaphors are fundamental parts of people’s thought process when they think abstractly. Therefore, we suggest that the better one understands the metaphors another person uses the better one understands this person. Lakoff claims that “our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” (Lakoff 3) Consequently, the way people are able to interpret this metaphor influences their understanding of others.

What becomes important is that people should be impartial when they understand the metaphors others use. The thing is that going by Joann Loviglio’s research, “the brain is a believing machine because it has to be […] Beliefs affect every part of our lives. They make us who we are. They are the essence of our being.” (Loviglio 3C) And it is humans’ hands not to be misled by their own beliefs when communicating with others. The most obvious example of how personal beliefs prevent people from understanding each other is science proponents and religion proponents’ conflict. Each of the stated groups is one’s own system of beliefs which, each of them claims, is grounded on evident facts. Being absolutely convinced in their righteousness people do not care about others’ opinions and proofs that they might provide. As a result of mutual reluctance to at least listen to another party’s arguments, constant misunderstanding appears. And though Richard Dial in his article Evolution and Bible are not in Conflict claims that there are no grounds for argues between the proponents of the two theories we suppose that the contradictions between them will seize only when people will learn how to become tolerant to others’ beliefs.

One more factor that influences the way people understand others is the extent to which they feel privileged in society. Peggy McIntosh in the White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack examines the privileges a white person has over the blacks. There are numerous aspects in which the whites might feel safe in the world around if compared to the blacks. Though not all of them are damaging, the vast majority cause the ever-burning problem of racism. Erik Eckholm’s study under the title Higher Education Gap May Slow Economic Mobility (2008) presents vivid examples of how white people succeed more in their education as compared to people of another skin color. This all comes from the absence of understanding between people due to the privileges some have over others. In this case, we talk of privileges that are determined by people’s skin color and their influence on human intercourse. But the problem can be considered in a more general context, as the privileges may be of absolutely different nature: starting from sex to age ones. To succeed in understanding others people thus face the challenge of ignoring these privileges as they serve as a destroying factor in human intercourse.


The three factors considered we conclude that are equally important for people’s understanding each other. What is needed is people’s true desire to succeed in this sphere. And till there is not even a rough scientific answer to the problem of what life is (Boyd 20 A) people will see it as a constant struggle to understand themselves and others. The latter is impossible without considering the factors the paper has focused on above.

Works Cited

Boyd, Robert S. “A Tiny Find Renews a Larger Question.” McClatchy Newspapers. 2006: 20 A.

Cronon, Willian. “Qualities of the Liberally Educated Person.” Association of American Colleges and Universities 2007: 1-4. Web.

Dial, Richard. “Evolution and Bilble are not in Conflict.” 2008.

Eckholm, Erik. The New York Times 2008: 1-3. nytimes.com. Web.

Lakoff, George. Metaphors We live By. University Of Chicago Press, 1980.

Lovigilio, Joann. “The Science Behind Spirituality.” The Associated Press. 2007: 3 C.

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