People need to feel understood before they become ready to understand

Suppose a patient goes to a doctor and, without hearing the patient, the doctor starts giving a prescription. The patient will be taken aback, “I haven’t even described my problems.”

Even if the prescription is correct, the patient will take it halfheartedly because of the apprehension that they haven’t been understood. To help the patient heal, the doctor needs to not just prescribe the right treatment but also infuse faith in the patient so that they take the treatment properly. Patients are more likely to repose that faith when they feel understood.

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna demonstrates this principle of empathic understanding while responding to Arjuna’s concern (06.33-34) that the mind is uncontrollably restless. For Krishna, being God, controlling the mind is not at all difficult. Yet he empathizes (06.35) with our human difficulties in controlling the mind by acknowledging the mind’s recalcitrance, thereby helping Arjuna feel understood. Thereafter, Krishna speaks essentially the same remedy he has spoken earlier – persevere with commitment and detachment, commitment to the process for disciplining the mind and detachment from the expectation of immediate results. But because he has conveyed understanding before prescribing, his message registers deeper.

Similarly, when we try to share spiritual knowledge with people, especially through one-to-one discussions, we need to ensure that they feel understood, that is, they feel we have heard and appreciated their concerns.

Of course, we can’t let all our time with them be spent in hearing their problems just as a doctor can’t let the whole consultation time go in hearing the symptoms. But like an expert doctor, we need to hear enough to understand and paraphrase enough to make people feel understood. Then they will be more open to assimilate and apply the spiritual message, thereby benefiting from it.

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