November 23, 2012

Why Don't We UNDERSTAND? - A Little Thoughts After Thanksgiving Party

reason, conclusion - emotion, action
reason, conclusion - emotion, action (Photo credit: Will Lion)
I had a nice Thanksgiving dinner party in one of my students' parents home. It was a nice house (a mansion, I should say), and the family is a three generations of Chinese Americans. The foods were extremely delicious homemade authentic Sichuan foods, and people were all friendly and relaxing. Generally speaking, I had very good time.

However, the first half hour there I had to spend on explaining my health condition, as "grandparents" were both concerned very much and it was almost the first issue they launched right after I sat down. The conversation started from their "kind" encouraging me to go out often, join people, because obviously they already had BELIEF that my lonely lifestyle was the only real cause for every trouble I had. Since they were so sincere, I reacted accordingly, saying that I was happy and content about myself and accepted everything and trying everything I could to get healthy. It was not enough, because they did not understand why I was still not completely recovered, as if as long as what I told them was true, I should be just as healthy as everybody else.

The conversation later on was pretty much just between grandma and me. I somehow could tell, she was not convinced and still believed what she believes. I had just let go, of course, but what I was bugged "a little" is, this kind of "discussion" has been happening since ever, being repeated almost every time when talking to "certain type" of people. I would say, albeit my condition is complicated, the fact is very simple and plain (such as: I had some chronic complicated health issue, doctors could not help me so it takes me some time to help myself), but why people still don't get it? I realized there is just one simple reason: they do not want to challenge their fundamental belief, such as as long as doctors don't find anything wrong with you, your problem is mental; or, as long as people are mentally happy, they should be physically healthy; or single lifestyle is unhealthy, etc.  I also realized, if they found themselves wrong, they seem to be very upset. That's why those conversations always ended somehow awkward: they ran out of counter arguments, still somehow disbelieved what they were told.

It seems to me, for many people, PREMISES - the foundation of our logic reasoning, is more important than FACTS (or worse, is more important than their life). As long as people found one reason can help them understanding something, they take it as ABSOLUTE. Many time when I heard people say, "I just don't get it", I always found the reason often was merely because their premise was wrong.

Taking our idea as "God", is this one of reasons how we humans get into so many troubles? I have very little doubt. The rest of questions is: WHY? Or, instead of trying to "understand", I should just toss this heavy reasoning burden into the air...


  1. I think that sometimes people actually believe that if you follow their exact advice then you will not suffer from the illness that you have. It is very hard for them to accept that something is wrong when you don't have a precise diagnosed name for your illness etc, so they wade in trying to work it all out for you, then get offended when you don't listen, so to speak.

    There has been many times when I feel bombarded by people's opinions whilst going out for dinner, simply because they were not happy to accept my view but wanted to verbally force their own personal views on me and would keep at it until they felt I relented.

    At least you had a nice Thanksgiving dinner, and I truly wish you all the best with your health. Heath is a major issue, and not all things can be helped with a tablet on the tongue.

  2. RPD,you are right. In many situation people believe they know truth as outsiders. However, I believe facts are more complicated than people can imagine.
    Thanks for understanding!

  3. Good post. Although their concern was well meaning (and I’m glad you had a nice Thanksgiving dinner), I don’t blame you at all for feeling “bugged.” I’d feel the same way. Yes, it is all about not challenging fundamental beliefs. And for too many folks, it seems, premises are more important than facts, I agree. I see that every day. I also agree that taking our idea as “God” is one of the reasons humans get into trouble. Why? Good question. My thought is that people feel “comfortable” with their beliefs and don’t want to venture outside of that comfort zone to try to understand a different point of view. It’s frustrating for those of us who feel that facts are more important than premises.

  4. JL, i agree with the theory of "comfortable zone".
    i am glad we are in the same boat on this one:-) thanks for commenting!

  5. Yunyi, there's a great remark by John Cage: "An error is simply the failure to adjust immediately from a preconception to an actuality." Most of the things we believe to be true are based either on things we've read or heard or our own very limited experience. So whenever we meet a new person with a different experience of life it's an opportunity to revise and expand our understanding of reality.

  6. Thanks for a thought-provoking post, Yunyi. In my experience, people who tenaciously cling to pre-conceived notions have a tough time wrapping their heads around any viewpoints which differ from their own. It's not malicious, it's usually just tunnel vision. No matter how much you try, you can't persuade highly opinionated people to see things from your perspective. As long as you're being true to yourself, there's really nothing to explain.

  7. Yun Yi, this is a conversation you would never have had in England, and not just because we don’t do Thanksgiving! To begin with, How Do You Do? is probably the most insincere question in the English language, in that people don’t really expect an answer, not here anyway. Health issues may be touched on at length within families but it would just not be the thing to probe an outsider relentlessly on particular problems. And if the outsider insisted on revelation, well, embarrassment all round!

    There is no contradiction between logical reasoning and facts. Logical reasoning, properly understood, is just an accumulation of facts. I think what you solicited here was a mixture of concern and fear over uncertainty. A lot of people find it difficult to accept that the only certain thing about life is uncertainty.

  8. Another great article, Yun!

    I know it must be so tough for you after all these years trying to recover. I have never had that experience of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome so I have no idea what it is like for you.

    But I do have depression and I also have encountered well-meaning people who try to help out but just do NOT understand what depression is like.

    It's almost like you wish you could just yell at them, "WHAT I HAVE IS REAL! AND IT'S NOT JUST MIND OVER MATTER, YOU ASSHOLE!"

    It's as ridiculous as going into a cancer ward in a hospital and saying to the people in their beds, "Oh, come on! Just get up and move around and you'll feel better in no time."

    But at least you had a nice dinner. :-/


  9. Thanks Tom for commenting here! And your understanding! Hugs!