Virtue of the Week: Understanding

Seven Deadly SinsSeven Deadly Sins

Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice.”Mahatma Gandhi

There is a big difference between knowing something and truly understanding it. The difference is empathy, a critical skill we might all benefit from practicing more of. You know how you’ll try to communicate something very important to another person and sometimes they’ll wave you off with an impatient, “I know, I know”? That’s knowing:” I got it, filed it away, I don’t need to think about it again, stop trying to pound it into my head”. Its really pretty simple to grow knowledge (even chimpanzees can do it), but understanding is deeper because it comes from empathy, identification, and spirituality. The temporary world says to seek knowledge, while eternity begs your understanding.

We apprehend material things by our bodily senses, but it is not by our bodily senses that we form a judgment on them. For we have another sense, far more important than any bodily sense, the sense of the inner man, by which we apprehend what is just and what is unjust, the just by means of the ‘idea’ which is presented to the intellect, the unjust by the absence of it. The working of this sense has nothing to do with the mechanism of the eye, ear, smell, taste, or touch. It is through this sense that I am assured of my existence; and through this I love both existence and knowledge, and am sure that I love them.Augustine


There are various versions of the story of the blind men and the elephant. The ‘blind men and the elephant’ is a legend that appears in different cultures – notably China, Africa and India – and the tale dates back thousands of years. Some versions of the story feature three blind men, others five or six, but the message is always the same. Here’s a story of the six blind men and the elephant:

Six blind men were discussing exactly what they believed an elephant to be, since each had heard how strange the creature was, yet none had ever seen one before. So the blind men agreed to find an elephant and discover what the animal was really like. It didn’t take the blind men long to find an elephant at a nearby market. The first blind man approached the beast and felt the animal’s firm flat side. “It seems to me that the elephant is just like a wall,” he said to his friends. The second blind man reached out and touched one of the elephant’s tusks. “No, this is round and smooth and sharp – the elephant is like a spear.”

Intrigued, the third blind man stepped up to the elephant and touched its trunk. “Well, I can’t agree with either of you; I feel a squirming writhing thing – surely the elephant is just like a snake.” The fourth blind man was of course by now quite puzzled. So he reached out, and felt the elephant’s leg. “You are all talking complete nonsense,” he said, “because clearly the elephant is just like a tree.”

Utterly confused, the fifth blind man stepped forward and grabbed one of the elephant’s ears. “You must all be mad – an elephant is exactly like a fan.” Duly, the sixth man approached, and, holding the beast’s tail, disagreed again. “It’s nothing like any of your descriptions – the elephant is just like a rope.” And all six blind men continued to argue, based on their own particular experiences, as to what they thought an elephant was like. It was an argument that they were never able to resolve. Each of them was concerned only with their own idea. None of them had the full picture, and none could see any of the other’s point of view. Each man saw the elephant as something quite different, and while in part each blind man was right, none was wholly correct.

There is never just one way to look at something – there are always different perspectives, meanings, and perceptions, depending on who is looking.

Little Understanding In the World Today

One of the reasons so many people are stumbling and falling today is because of ignorance….. ignorance not only as to how to live a “good” life, but also ignorance about themselves (understanding their own real motives, their own wrong dependencies, their own misconceived priorities, their own spirituality, and so on). It is the virtue of understanding that reveals and exposes these things so that we can “deal” with them. When we are not receptive and work to grow this virtue, understanding is not allowed to operate, and we have a hard time finding our way. All of us have understanding lying in our laps, but many of us, because of busyness, distractions, hurts, unbelief, and other self-centered egotistical thoughts and emotions, don’t take the time to listen and hear what “understanding” is telling us. Instead, we depend upon our emotions, what others are telling us and what the worlds knowledge dictates, ………..and these are a poor substitute for “understanding”.

The heart to conceive, the understanding to direct, and the hand to execute.Junius