The Vast Chasm between Knowing and Understanding

Many times many of us, especially myself, get into this problem of ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’. Does this create problems? Yes. Some times directly, some time indirectly; by this I mean, violently and discreetly.

‘Knowing’ and ‘understanding’ may be related concepts, but they are not the same. Each is a distinct mental state involving cognitive grasp: Knowing is static, referring to discrete facts, while Understanding is active, describing the ability to analyze and place those facts in context to form a big picture, perhaps objectively.

‘Understanding’ is processed in the brain. It is defined as ‘a psychological process related to a person, object, situation, or messages which require an individual to think and use concepts to deal with.’

Because of this distinct difference, many times we get into difficult or delicate situations. Normally, this happens when someone comes to us with some problems for solution, or while just indulging in a conversation on some subject quite animatedly. I have come across many discussions in science and technology related topics, the arguments extending to such an extent that the situation will turn grave and explosive.

We, in our study on the safety of the chemical plants had faced the exact difference between ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’. We used a systematic technique called ‘Hazard and Operability Studies’ (acronym HAZOP) which involves and necessitates the input from different engineers from design, operating, instrumentation, safety professional and the plant manager mainly and many more related to it. Some groups used to be very receptive and ‘understanding’ while some just ‘know’ like us when we study the process. The clashes have to be solved by the Chairman of the Study. I chaired many sessions like this for different kinds of plants, processes for the industries. But, at one stage I felt this exercise quite exasperating and galling. At that point I said ‘quits’.

But, that doesn't mean I am not facing such situations in life. I did, I do and I will be. Only the context and topics may be different. But, today, I feel it is better to avoid discussion or confrontation once you could guess the other person’s psyche because it only hurts both parties. Better to leave things to take their own courses.

All of us know the popular adage ‘you may win an argument but lose a friend.’

It is wise to leave the person with the problem to ‘understand’ it on their own from just ‘knowing’.


More by :  G Swaminathan

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