I recently had a thought. What if I aimed for connection in a conversation rather than getting my point across. What would it take not to have my viewpoint be the most important thing?
The seed for this idea started several years ago. Sarah Palin was John McCain's running mate. My sister-in-law was over, and we were canning. We stood at the sink working, and I said something to the effect of, "Can you believe Sarah Palin believes "x"?" I don't recall what it was, only that it seemed incredible to me. My sister-in-law said, "Yeah," like it was as common as the sky is blue. At that moment, I was stunned to silence. Thank goodness.
But, it started a thinking process that has brought me to this point. My sister-in-law doesn't believe what she does because she is a bad person or evil or wrong. Her viewpoint is merely different than mine.
My mind wants to make her wrong so I can be right, but that doesn't bring us to resolution.
Hence, this idea that I need to seek connection, build relationships and let all the separating thoughts go.
It's a tough order. One I'm not sure I can always accomplish.
I want to be clear. I'm not suggesting I connect so I can win someone to my point of view. I'm suggesting I let go of the things that get in the way of connection.
That's what is hard. I believe the things I do. I'm passionate about many of them. But the truth is, we can find lots of things to argue about, to separate us. Look in the news any day and see the many ways we are divided.
But connection. That takes a different approach. And I believe we desperately need it. Otherwise, we are going to stand around arguing while the rising oceans drown the whole lot of us.
How do we accomplish this?
- Let our ideas go in a conversation and listen. Keep quiet unless asked. Yup, I know. It's damned near impossible. But try it anyway. Then try it again. Then start to notice what happens. The world won't come to an end. People might begin to relax around us. We might start to enjoy life more and feel angry less.
- Look for the connecting points. What are the ways we are the same? What things in life do we share? Connect through our shared humanity.
- Think with our heart when we feel something is wrong. Ask how vital our viewpoint is? Is it important if they eat foods in a category we think they shouldn't be? GMO vs. non-GMO; organic vs. conventional; vegan vs. love-that-meat; you name it. Can we let it be? Can we make the moment about something different? Raise our voices in a new way to speak out for what we believe. But save our relationships from our rage. Save our anger for the essential things. Places where people are in danger, or someone is being harmed. And, be careful about this line. We can go there really easy. "Yeah, but, if we don't make this change, we're all in danger." But is it critical at the moment? I know. It's difficult. But don't use it as an excuse to create harm with words rather than the other person's actions.
- Speak our truth with love. And, when we have to speak out. When we feel it's critical. Don't be critical. Be gentle and loving with our words. That might mean doing number 1 first. Be silent. Let the beating of your heart be still. Breathe deep into the moment and remember to find the connecting point.
The real question is, how do we address the issues that face us and still maintain a connection. I don't have the answers. I know what we are doing isn't working. The clamor of ideas in the world is getting louder. The hatred towards one another seems to be getting bigger. The separation between factions, greater. The number of things to address, more.
Some days it feels like a clanging noise. I can't take it all in, can't care about one more thing. I'm tired of being angry or fearful or distrusting. I want peace in my life. The best way I know to accomplish that is to live my life with integrity to my values. Show by example, rather than adding another voice to the noise.
And, yes, here I am doing just that. I get the irony in that. But we have to start somewhere to move forward together. We have to learn to accept that both sides can coexist together. There is room for all of us to live with integrity according to the values we hold true. And know they are not the same.
We can still treat one another with respect. Learn to have honest yet gentle conversations about the tough stuff. The things we can't tolerate. But look instead for the deeper meaning. What's really behind what someone holds to be true? We have to be curious, want to know more, want to understand. Again, not to force change on another person, but to understand the complexity of the situation.
Recently, we were together with my sister-in-law and her husband. We were enjoying a nice evening together when my sister-in-law lobbed a little political statement into the room. Without thinking, I reacted. Let's say it's never pretty when we go into that place. It leaves scars.
The next time we got together, I could tell we were both being cautious. I love my sister-in-law. I want our relationship to be harmonious. If that's to happen, I have to learn a new way to address the differences between us. And there are many. For now, I'm behaving. And, I'm going to try listening more and speaking less and focus on what we share. I'll let you know how it goes.