We’ve just gotten out of our taxi in Cartagena, Colombia. Unsure of whether we’re at the right place, I ask the doorman with the address in my hand if we are at our destination. His response comes quickly in a style of Spanish my high school teacher didn’t prepare me for. I try to speak again, but my words are lost on him; we don’t understand each other. I feel myself getting frustrated as he continues to speak although I’ve told him a dozen times “no entiendo.” I can tell he’s frustrated as well, too.
Traveling in a non-English speaking country has been the greatest test of my patience and I’ve found myself frustrated more often than not. I wonder why they don’t take the time to slow down to help me understand and why they can’t take the time to understand me.
With my lack of Spanish fluency, I’ve been forced to choose my words carefully and think before speaking – two concepts that have been lost in the age of social media where everyone hides behind a screen. What words will best serve me? Can I convey my message in a way that will be understood by the masses? As a yoga teacher, one of the biggest challenges (and goals) is to craft your words to be approachable by all of your students – and here I am, learning how to craft my words to order a sandwich and cerveza.
This frustration, driven from a lack of understanding, goes beyond a language barrier. It’s happening right now in America and has created a massive divide. When the frustration arises and the tension builds, both sides of the spectrum are left hastily wondering, “What gives?” There is no solution because the tug-of-war of power is at a standstill. We forget to use our ears to listen – really listen – and attempt to understand. We often don’t ask for the other side to slow down and offer another explanation. Instead, we put up our shields and refuse to engage.
When we refuse to engage, we’re also losing a chance to communicate our own message.
Since the start of my travels, I’ve realized that by practicing awareness, asking questions, and forgiving others I’ve been able to become more patient and begin to understand others. Try these three tactics on your own and see how they work for you:
When you feel yourself starting to become frustrated, where does this feeling originate? Is it in your stomach, your chest, your jaw? Pinpoint the part of your body where the irritation arises and mentally acknowledge why you are starting to feel that way. Is it something someone said or do you feel you are not being heard? Rather than becoming more upset, practice finding a different route to understanding someone or to make your voice heard.
Once you’ve pinpointed the source of your frustration, ask yourself and (if possible) the other person questions to mediate this frustration. If you don’t understand why someone believes in something, ask them questions to try and understand rather than working yourself up. A lot of times, just by prodding them they will see their viewpoint may not make sense – or you may see that it does make sense.
This can be hard, but there is one basic rule you can always remind yourself of: we are all only human and we all make mistakes. We don’t always get things right the first time and it’s safe to say that most of us are walking around wondering what the hell we’re doing. Sometimes, it takes another person to be patient and forgive us to help open our eyes. If you can practice forgiveness and be a light for someone else, you are bridging the gap to help people understand.
For those feeling misunderstood, know that you do have a place and your voice is heard – sometimes you just have to craft your message in a different way. The world we live in today is not easy, but by asking the right questions, becoming aware and practicing forgiveness, you can start developing new ways to understand and communicate your message.