Do we describe or interpret?

The importance of describing.

Contribution by Isabel Hernández Negrín, Las Palmas, Canary Islands, Spain.

One definition that the verb describe offers us this: Explain what something, a person or a place is like in order to offer a complete idea or picture of them.

I invite you to consider whether this is how we proceed in situations or with people or even with ourselves. 

Remember how you behaved with a person or in a situation that was pleasant or unpleasant.  Did you try to observe it to get the most reliable picture of it that you could?  Or did you perhaps react towards it driven by your own preconceived ideas, expectations, beliefs and previous experiences about similar situations?   

The latter is more common.  And we should be careful about it.  It comes automatically to us.  Our brain plays tricks on us by continually putting forward hypotheses about what we appears in front of.  It tries to guide us quickly so that we react without wasting time.  This innate mechanism is related to survival.  If a lion appears in front of me, it is not sensible for me to start assessing whether it may or may not be bad for my survival.  As quick as a flash, I do what I can to survive.  However, human life has many different nuances.  Our relationships are full of them, but most of the time we continue to react as we do when confronted by the lion.  When faced with a comment that I dislike I react without observing what is really happening to me and nor do I pay attention to my response.  Once I have done it, it normally seems to me to be right and proper, what I should do in response to such a situation.

When we behave this way there is no pause for reflection.  I do not know why the other person did what they did, nor why I reacted the way I did.  At the most, I tend to justify it or interpret it according to my beliefs, memories, opinions, fears, etc.

And that is where I say that it is important to learn to describe. To describe facts and not to take refuge in interpretations.  If I describe something, I pause and give myself space to perceive the details of what happened without pre-conceived ideas.  It is about describing not just the external aspects, that are easy to see, but the internal ones: what I believed, what I felt, what drove me, if I anticipated, if I pre-judged, if I prevented the other person from speaking, or if I expressed myself appropriately or on what basis I reacted, etc.  None of this has much to do with thinking about the situation, but about observing it without filters.  Describing something is a healthy exercise, it aids impartiality and an understanding of what happens to me and to others.  Description entails honesty with the facts, that is, not interpreting and filtering them according to my self-centred interests. 

If I do it, I discover a lot about you and I see that I have lots of options to deal with life apart from the automatic ones that exist in my most primitive brain.  The one that is trained to save us from what we consider threatening and that may not be.  The one that makes up justifications so that we can get out of things, even if  they are self-deluding, pious lies about ourselves.

Describing means sticking to the facts, the truth.  When unconsciously I do not want to see or accept the facts as they are, conflict builds up inside me. 

It is better to describe.