Incomprehension and shared experience

I’m in LA, away from the cold. Away from the bone cracking temperatures that disallow airplanes to take off because it’s too frigid for the de-icing machine to take the frost off the wings. The magic degree for that to happen is minus 37. That temp was fortunately reached; but only after the sun rose and began its climb to the late January zenith. A few hours later the natives were telling me, "It’s cold here in LA.

Deicing the plane From climate to culture, relativities abound. And what I mean when I use the word relative is not that everything is reducible to essentially the same thing, but that my everyday experience of life is relative to my cultural and geographical context. So while the measurement of temperature is not a relative concept, what is, is our experiences of what is hot and cold. But of course, herein–my relative experience–lies the seeds of another’s incomprehension. An incomprehension that can only be overcome through a shared experience.

I was confronted with my own incomprehension at the Russ Reid conference I’m attending. And it exposed within me a nervous protectionism regarding my job and Hope Mission that I won’t go into, but only say that I needed to recall the Californian who thought he was experiencing cold; because, of course he was. In this small act of recalling, I was, I realized, beginning to enact a shared experience.

How is it possible to have a shared experience of faith, of culture, of tradition? (These are the biggies.) Or how is it possible to have a shared experience of poverty, abuse, ill-health, emotional manipulation, addiction, mental breakdown, and on and on? Frankly, how is it possible to feel the viewpoint of the one in front of you?

Isn’t this why we’ve been given an imagination? Because we can’t live inside the hearts and minds, or even the shoes, of our acquaintances, neighbours, or co-workers, or even our friends and relatives. But we can imagine what it might be like, if we care to take the time to ask…and listen. Perhaps a good measure of our fear, our protectionism, our combativeness, is both birthed and nursed by lazy imaginations.

And so, my recipe…of sorts. Take a poultice of creative imagination, mixed with the essence of empathy–about a cup–and apply it to the welt of incomprehension. (A caveat, cooking, baking, whatever, has everything to do with timing and context.)

This acknowledged, know this: if the incomprehension exists both ways–which is often the case–the use of this poultice, should you be the one to make the overture, will make you vulnerable. This is however, the vulnerability practiced by Jesus and the long line of peace-making saints.

Technorati Tags: ,


  1. Funny how a request for your name can stop you cold. One moment you’re ecstatic at having stumbled, seemingly by accident, upon a place where the language that is spoken resonates deeply and completely and you want to shout and holler and talk about small miracles and how there really aren’t any accidents and ask why searching images of Mary Margaret O’Hara has led you here…and you reach in, voice at the ready when a small window opens and you’re asked for your name. Everything slows right down. And you hesitate, ponder, observe and over your shoulder looms the inflated, rubberized, google-eyed monster that edits out every word you choose before it finds its way to the page (as it were). Enough. I am glad to have discovered you and will return again and again to follow along as you journey. Thank you for sharing the path.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *