I am a great believer in ways that we can understand ourselves and others. Our wiring is unique and tests such as Strength Finders, Disc and other means of evaluating ourselves and others help us understand who we are and why we react and respond the way we do.
One of the most powerful ways to understand others, however, is not found in a test but in taking the time to listen to and understand their personal story. Our story defines much of who we have become and a great deal regarding our world view.
Let me illustrate with a synopsis of my own story. I am the second of ten children, raised in Hong Kong as my parents were missionaries (my father a medical missionary), went to an international school with kids of 22 different nationalities and my first 15 years were defined by an international world view. My parents were strict and fairly legalistic in their faith - and expectations of me. As a child I had the run of Hong Kong, a port city and we regularly had people from all over the world at our dinner table. For several years I assisted my father in surgery as they did not have enough trained assistants.
There have been many more years of story since them but you can imagine how much of who I am today was formed in the years I lived in Hong Kong. It explains my love of foreigners, my love of the world, a global world view and an innate need to travel. I am one of those folks called a "third culture kid." Our family of origin stories leave a stamp on our lives that is long lasting.
Beyond our childhoods which leave an indelible imprint on our lives for good or ill there are the seminal moments of life that change us and mold us. Deaths of those we love, marriage or divorce, children, jobs and job losses, personal illness. No serious event in our lives leaves us untouched in some way or our life perspectives the same.
Furthermore, the events that have molded me give me the ability to empathize with others, even though their particular story lines are not mine. That common bond of empathy and understanding shapes a deeper relationship between two individuals. And, if you think deeply about their story lines you gain valuable insight into those things that have molded them, their attitudes and reactions to situations they face.
Because people usually love to tell their story, questions about their lives, sensitively asked in an informal setting is rarely a problem. People like to be understood and hearing their story gives them value and mutual insight. Perhaps the greatest impediment is our own busyness which keeps us from interacting over deep things.
Take the time to share stories and listen deeply. It will help you to understand and appreciate those around you.