According to social anthropologists, ethnographers, and paleontologists, a key to human survival, and a primary marker of the Homo genus, is our sociability and propensity to share, whether that means sharing food, tools, or sexual favors. Our earliest forebears, living in relatively small bands of pre-agricultural hunter-gatherers, shared anything and everything, distinguishing them from most, if not all, primate cousins. Sharing, as a primal human activity, also mitigated against hierarchy and the concentration of power.
Furthermore, it is easy to recognize the frailty of human nature; our weaknesses are legendary. We can err and be snared both in the giving and the receiving ~ delivering as well as taking a beating (emotionally/psychologically). Each person can easily cause distress in others as much as within oneself. Each one of us is capable of inflicting all manner of emotional pain. But, it is our inherent and primal capacity to share that allows us to check our reactions; and to imagine, if not participate, the experience of another’s distress before we deliver the blow, because we ourselves have the selfsame capacity to feel. And it is just this facility — our imagination to foretaste — that allows us to anticipate the distress of retaliation, and to show forgiveness instead of inflicting yet more pain when the opportunity arises. In this light, the ability to share in another’s distress, and to peremptorily forgive, becomes a key to understanding the other.
The most challenging part in all of this is the problem of interpretation and, ultimately, a problem of understanding. Language, in all its variants — verbal, written, gestural, bodily — can confuse and obfuscate as much as it can clarify or disambiguate. And, it is because of the intransigence of communication that openness (and forgiveness) be given priority in every case. Misunderstanding is as likely in dialogue as is the event of understanding. And in many instances, it is our own presuppositions ~ our own embedded and unquestioned prejudices ~ that guide our understanding within any dialogical framework. So, it becomes critical that we remain aware of our own pre-understandings and open to the ‘Other’ in a way that I will characterize as pre-forgiving. This requires that one try to re-interpret comments by the ‘Other’ before reacting to them; try to grasp the broader context of someone’s remarks or gestures before committing to a retaliatory response. This is how we can lay a foundation of mutual understanding. And this is what it means to share a world, where divergent pre-understandings can meet and move forward together.