Do you seek to understand before responding?

Today is June 22 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “do you seek to understand before responding?” For those navigating the chaos they understand their way is just one of the many paths available. Translating one’s dreams into reality leaves little time to mandate a strict path for others to follow. Instead, navigating the chaos of life requires one to understand before responding, judging, or criticizing.

As with most of human endeavors, many people find it easier to engage in the path of least resistance. They judge the actions of others despite not being active themselves. They criticize the words of others while remaining silent themselves. They mock those trying to find a way while they stand still themselves. This failure to understand others is a typical characteristic of weak individuals unwilling to take the time to understand.

Parents are often guilty of this as they often fail to spend the time required to understand their own children. By seeking to understand Henry Winkler figured out how to navigate the chaos.

Winkler has said that he was very anxious as a child because of his undiagnosed dyslexia, and he was often considered to be "slow, stupid, and not living up to his potential.” He also said that his relationship with his parents was strained, due at least partially to their attitude towards his condition. His father spoke 11 languages and could quickly do mathematics in his head, and thus did not understand Winkler's problems at school and why Winkler would celebrate earning a C grade. His father often called him a "dumb dog" in German and punished him for his difficulties in school. According to Winkler:

“When I was little, my parents would ground me for six weeks at a stretch. I was a D student with an occasional C-minus. Exasperated with my poor grades, my father had me sit at my desk for hours and told me to concentrate. But I couldn’t. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. Nobody did. We weren’t aware of dyslexia back then.” When asked one of life’s greatest lessons, Winkler noted “How you do in school has nothing to do with how brilliant you are.”

Despite his dyslexia, Winkler would go on to have an amazing career as an actor, comedian, director, producer, and author. He initially rose to fame for his role as Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli, a greaser who became the breakout character of the sitcom Happy Days (1974–1984), for which he won two Golden Globe Awards and earned three Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. He later played Barry Zuckerkorn on the comedy series Arrested Development (2003–2019) as well as dozens of other characters in television shows, stage performances, and films.

In 1998, Winkler's agent at CAA, Alan Berger, suggested Winkler write a children's book about dyslexia, but Winkler did not think that he would be able to write because of his struggles with the learning disability. Berger was persistent, and a few years later, in 2003, he again suggested Winkler write. Winkler said yes and has since written 19 books. Through his writing Winkler helps people understand those who suffer from dyslexia.

18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote “Every man has the right to risk his own life in order to preserve it. Has it ever been said that a man who throws himself out the window to escape from a fire is guilty of suicide?”

Successful people who navigate the chaos like Winkler seek to understand the actions of others before commenting, reacting, or judging. Navigating the chaos requires one to have a curious mind. The advent of social media, however, has made it far too easy for people to comment, react, or judge without spending a moment of time to reflect upon what it is they just saw, heard, or read. In short, we often lack curiosity for we are too busy commenting, reacting, or judging. There are countless examples of people commenting, reacting, or judging before understanding the actions of others.

One example came on April 1, 2014 when National Public Radio (NPR) pulled an epic April Fool’s joke on its followers. On its social media platforms, NPR produced a phony article with attached picture and published it on their website. The "article" was titled, "Why Doesn't America Read Anymore." When clicking on the link to the article readers were greeted by this message "Congratulations, genuine readers, and happy April Fools' Day! We sometimes get the sense that some people are commenting on NPR stories that they have not actually read. If you are reading this, please like this post and do not comment on it. Then let us see what people have to say about this story."

Sure enough, many people jumped straight to the comment section and were firing off ignorant comments. Those who only read the title were quick to defend their reading habits. The irony was brilliant!

Author Madeleine L'Engle noted “Just because we don't understand doesn't mean that the explanation doesn't exist.” As you go about your day how often do you remind yourself to understand the actions of others before you comment, react, or judge?