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Have you ever thought of the differences between ‘Knowing and Understanding’? How do you differentiate these two?

I, lately, found myself thinking more and more about ‘knowing and understanding’ and their differences. Listening to National and International News or reading articles on human dilemmas brought their differences more into my attention.

Knowing is a privilege of comprehension, when one learns something and accumulates knowledge related to what was learned.  To be a know-er, one goes to school, college or university, learns a subject matter and becomes an expert or specialized in a particular area of expertise.  We have become good at collecting information and knowing. Our social cultural and educational systems are focused on teaching people to view ‘Knowledge as Power’.

However, Understanding is a privilege of critical thinking, empathy and social responsibility.  Understanding is formed when what is learned are responsibly and critically re-viewed . Understanding is when we pause our thinking process and pay attention to impacts of our actions on others; when we put ourselves on someone else’s shoe and experience their affection and pain; when we become aware of the influence of our actions on our communities and society.

Knowing is usually achieved by attending schools and getting certificate or license; however, Understanding is generated by life experience, by giving attention to the layers of our social fabrics, by thinking critically about our contribution to problems in the world.

We all are taught to become a know-er, an expert. ‘Knowledge is Power’ was the slogan of the 20th century. We were taught to use any opportunities to climb up the ladder of ‘success’. We have learned that Understanding is an obstacle to one’s success.

On the other hand, we haven’t learned to explore ways of generating Understanding in human relationships.  We haven’t learned to view Understanding as Power.  We have to begin to undo what we have learned as those are obstacles to Understanding.

I don’t think we can go on this way for another century. Understanding has to be developed in our interpersonal relationships. Understanding has to be a critical part of human relationships. Understanding our differences, respecting various ideas and beliefs, and consequently, developing social responsibility are seemed to be the only avenues to preserving humanity.

Where do you place yourself in the spectrum of ‘knowing /understanding’? What actions are you taking to become an understanding person? How would you like to contribute in generating Understanding on matters that affect us all?

Happy Possibilities,

Tahereh Barati