There is nothing more essential to the human experience than to seek understanding of the human experience
We all hope to understand those we love, to build the relationships that fill and shape our lives.
We try to understand our colleagues and our customers so that we can collaborate and serve them better.
We endeavor to understand ourselves so that we can find meaning and purpose in our lives.
Understanding is what defines the human experience... yet the world today is far too complex for our natural abilities to take us as far as we need to go.
What is Understanding?
To understand someone is our ability to know them for who they are, what they've experienced, and what motivates them in the world. It is the ability to look past the surface, past the data, past our biases, and know them as a person.
Understanding comes from our ability to put together a full picture of a person in such a way that we can interact with them with authenticity and humanity.
The "people" in "Understanding People" often refers to other individuals, but each of us is a person as well, who we likely don't fully understand either, and groups of people from families to communities to entire societies also factor in to what it means to understand people.
Our ability to understand people arises at the intersection of three core disciplines
It has never Been so important to understand Each Other, and There has never been so Much to Understand
It Has Never Been More Important
The age we live in requires understanding. There is no way around that reality. We face some of the biggest challenges in the history of humanity, and for the first time nearly all of them require global collaboration. The solutions to climate change, terrorism, poverty, extreme wealth stratification, and social polarization are only going to come from our ability to live and work together in mutual understanding.
There's Never Been So Much
We also live in an era when it is more likely than ever before that our lives are filled with people who think, look, and act different than ourselves, while we also have access to an unprecedented amount of information. The only way that we will harness this astounding diversity and amount of information is to create a new way to take it in and learn to do important things with it.
Stresses On Our Ability to Understand
In 1996 a visionary report from UNESCO identified seven key tensions that we would need to overcome to create a world that could find unity in its diversity, and surmount the obstacles of our times.
These tensions still ring true today.
Between the Universal & the Individual
Between Tradition & Modernity
Between the Global and the Local
Between Long-term & Short-term considerations
Between the need for Competition & the concern for Equality of Opportunity
Between the extraordinary Expansion of Knowledge & human beings' Capacity to Assimilate it
Between the Spiritual & the Material