Valjean Clark

Peace through understanding

I’ve always found peace through understanding. This may sound obvious and perhaps universal, but stick with me.

My wife and I used to have a lot of misunderstandings that ultimately boiled down to neither of us understanding how the other handles conflict and what the other is really afraid of in a relationship. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t understand where and how things would go wrong. Things would seem fine between us, and then I would say something that would cause unexpected pain and conflict

Ultimately, we both read the book Attached, which is about attachment styles in relationships, and suddenly both of our worlds made sense to each other. We would still have the same kinds of misunderstandings, but we resolve them faster and better than we used to. For me, understanding why they happened made a huge difference to my state of mind.

I think most people would see how this revelation would bring me peace. However, I’ve noticed that “peace through understanding” is not universally true for everyone in all situations. Let me illustrate with an example.

Blind optimism

As I’ve written about, five years ago I had an ACL reconstruction surgery that led to some unfortunate long-term consequences. I recently had a cartilage repair surgery, which I hope will resolve some of the underlying problem. Ultimately the success rate for this surgery is between 80 and 90%, which is far from a sure bet, plus “success” technically just means the knee feels better than before, i.e. not necessarily fully resolved.

My reaction to everything with my knee has been to seek understanding for the cause of my pain and learn more about how the knee works. This understanding has led me to an acknowledgement that certain kinds of knee pain are really hard to fix, and that even the best surgeons and PTs cannot resolve every type of knee pain. There is still a lot that the medical profession doesn’t know about knees. For example, it was recently discovered that ACLs naturally heal at a higher rate than previously thought, and that non-surgical bracing can dramatically increase that rate.

Consequently, when I describe to others what will happen with my knee after my most recent surgery (two months ago), I tell them I will go through a lot of difficult rehab, and that even with the best care, I may end up with no improvement at all. This in turn would mean that I would be permanently limited in the sports and activities I can do, which is really difficult to accept for a very active person like me. Of course I am hoping for a full recovery, but at this point, after five years of knee complications, I’ve come to accept that it may not be possible for me.

A few people I know seem uncomfortable with this type of response. It seems anything short of “I got my knee fixed and I’m going to rehab it and get back to everything I used to do and it’s going to be awesome” is interpreted as a form of negativity and defeatism. I find this so strange, because I want a full recovery more than anyone, and I work hard at my physical therapy every single day in pursuit of it. My desire for understanding has led me to the knowledge of what outcomes are possible, and I’m merely relaying those possibilities. When I lacked understanding, I was quite frustrated and confused (i.e. not at peace) with what was wrong with my knee. Now I understand what is happening, and this brings me a lot of peace as I work through my rehab.

Understanding is not enough

For a long time, I was really proud of this life principle (for lack of a better term) of “peace through understanding”. However, recently I realized that while it brought peace, it did not necessarily bring satisfaction. Satisfaction is connecting understanding to a course of action that leads you somewhere you want to go.

For example, when I learn something about why my knee is painful, and then I use that knowledge to change my training in a way that reduces pain, then I am satisfied.

When I learned about how people with anxious attachment styles think, I initially felt peace without satisfaction. It was nice to understand why people acted so differently than me, but I still felt uncomfortable around anxious people. Eventually, through practice, I was able to recognize what an anxious friend needs when they act a certain way, and now I can be a better and more supportive friend in those situations.

There are other areas of my life in which I have newfound peace in understanding, but I do not feel satisfied. For example, I understand that I’m struggling with purpose and fulfillment in my career, and I even understand how I got here. The peace afforded by this understanding makes me less frustrated, but it is not satisfying yet because I have not been able to use this understanding to effect change. I’m stuck at peace, craving satisfaction.

The stages of growth?

Writing this made me realize that many instances of growth in my life have followed the exact path outlined above: confusion/frustration, then understanding/peace, then action/satisfaction. Some types of growth have come quickly, some slowly, some are still in progress. It reminds me of the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance). And similar to grief, growth doesn’t always happen at the speed you hope it does.