After posting a selfie in my Love is Love pride t-shirt, I was invited into several challenging conversations. Well, let’s be honest, some of them were one-way rants more than they were two-way conversations.
These situations are challenging. We have strong opinions and can find ourselves wanting to defend our position at all costs. We become the judge of the other person and their opinions. Remember that every person has an opinion based on their experience, and that they are a human to be honored in any interaction. It’s healthy to acknowledge that these conversations are not about anyone being right, they are about getting to the right answer or the right place. Thinking about debate in this way, working to get to that third place, is a powerful and helpful strategy that allows us to honor the other person by stating our truth with respect and to stay open to their point of view.
In the moment, it’s always a good idea to take a pause and choose to respond rather than react. Look in the mirror first. What do I really know for sure? What assumptions am I making? What judgments am I holding? What if I am wrong?
Next, remind yourself that this is a person. Like you, they are a human brother or sister. They play many roles like friend, son/daughter, sister/brother, aunt/uncle, mom/dad. I find it helpful to think about what they may have been like as a child. Nothing softens your heart faster in a moment of anger or frustration than to think of the person across the table as a baby. Take a pause and remember their humanity.
Then check your desire to make a point and be right. Do you want to be right or do you want to get to the right place? If the former…my friend, that’s your ego talking. Surrender your desire to judge or make a statement and invite conversation. Get curious with a question. If a perspective is shared that is different than yours, instead of presenting your perspective in a statement, find a question to ask. This encourages open dialogue and learning on both ends. It also builds trust and connection. We make many assumptions through statements and asking questions (what, why, how, when, who) invites deeper context so we can get to a better understanding.
But what if the other party doesn’t show up with the same intention? That’s when we are challenged to learn. Here’s what has worked for me.
I work to hold space with compassion and respect for the one-way rants, recognizing the other person’s deep desire to be heard. I work to be patient with those who pass judgement realizing that those who judge others are typically in fear of being judged themselves. When people are closed-minded and on the attack, they are acting out of a place of fear and hurt. Remembering that helps me have more compassion in the moment.
What happens when people make very disrespectful and dehumanizing comments? I have to take a pause and a deep breath. Instead of diving in with my statement, I have found it much more effective to reflect back to them with a question like, “What did you mean by that?” It’s easy to make offhanded comments that, when asked to explain in more detail, you realize you should apologize for.
When people do justify their comments, things can get tricky. Although I don’t enjoy engaging in these interactions, they are the ones that help me grow the most. I find it helpful to share things like, “That is not my experience, what makes you say that?” Or “You are using divisive and fear-filled language, where is that coming from?” We are not always aware of the language we use or are so deeply rooted in our point of view that statements can dig us further into our own beliefs, whereas good questions can open us up to thinking about things in a new way (usually not in the moment, but trust me, questions plant seeds).
We are taught to focus on small differences and miss the large similarities and deep connections we have as humans. We are conditioned to spread fear and hate rather than love and hope. When faced with these things, we have to challenge ourselves not to reciprocate the hateful words and judgments but to find a way to stop the cycle.
My friends, we are not exactly the same and that is precisely what makes the world work. In all of our experiences and interactions we can choose to be defensive or reflective, to shut down or to learn. Which are you choosing? What message are you sending? How is your choice impacting your life?
I certainly don’t have this all figured out, but I know I am making progress. I grew up in a small town. I had specific beliefs about specific people. People I had never met. People who I had seen on TV or was told certain things about. Diversity of thought, ethnicity, sexual orientation…you name it…it wasn’t accepted in my small town. We were taught to fit in and fall in line. Differences became a source of shame.
Do you know what happens in a society where differences are shamed instead of celebrated? Conflict and violence increase. Politics and companies become gridlocked. People lose hope, and some take their life because it’s just too unbearable to live in a world where you can’t seem to find a source of safety, connection and belonging. Sound familiar?
I am not asking us to change our beliefs or compromise our truths. I am asking us all to surrender our judgments. Let go of our desire to control other people.
Remember that these conversations are important and these moments are more about the experience than they are the outcome. If you follow these practices and the other person, in their stubbornness, prevents the conversation from getting to that third place, then all we can do is help them feel heard, make them feel loved and plant seeds via questions that could continue to blossom.
Whether your point is valid or not, it will not be heard if love and respect are missing. This is a lesson that I continue to learn over and over myself. These practices are simple but not easy. Let’s continue to try and try and try again. Surrendering our judgment and leaning into challenging and meaningful conversations with openness and compassion is something worth investing in so we can understand ourselves, honor others and build a better world.