I enjoy conversation. I enjoy hearing others point of view. I enjoy the discourse found when two or more people can explore, connect and discover how the nuances of varying ideals and real life experience help them form their thoughts and beliefs. Not everyone feels exactly the same about most things, and the ability to have collaborative and friendly discourse is important. I fear we have lost that ability in todays culture.
I posted on facebook once that I was less interested in being right than I was about being able to understand. And I still feel that way. I have a very loose view of right and wrong. Outside of the Non Aggression Principle, essentially a ‘do no harm’ attitude, or the Buddhist Eightfold Path, I don’t feel like it is my place to judge what or how others choose to live, or what they choose to believe. And yet, I am fascinated by how they came to the conclusions they did and what informed those determinations for them. Couple that with my natural desire to learn (learner is one of my top 5 Clifton Strengths) and you can see why I love to engage in deeper conversation. I know many people don’t appreciate it hough and that many will run, not walk, from anything that challenges them or creates what so often turns into an argument. I’d like to explore why I think that you may want to shift your ideals around that.
HOW WE LEARN
When you reflect back on the things you know, and if we are honest we say we know a lot more than we actually do, think about how you learned it. Was it something you learned as a truth from an authority figure? A parent, a pastor a trusted family member? Was it directly taught to you or was it a concept held within the environment, or culture, you were brought up in. And therefore something assumed? Have you ever challenged the thoughts or beliefs you have, or, because it was an authority figure you took it at face value and then, when the inclination to challenge, or trust but verify arose, you were too insecure to do so for fear of what that may mean about what you learned early on and the person who taught it to you. Have you, as you grew older and experienced more life, shifted or changed views about a core principle? How did that go for you and the relationship with you and the person or persons who instilled that belief into you? Or do you have a situation you haven’t faced yet because you don’t know what the outcome will be?
If we remove the emotion from the beliefs we hold and the story about what happens as we evolve then we are more open to being open; that is to changing our beliefs or expanding our understanding of the how and why others may feel otherwise. We begin to have more compassion for others ideas and we become less concerned about being right and more concerned about being understanding.
One of the things I find most interesting about people’s aversion to open and honest discourse is this myth that friends, or family for that matter, can’t hold opposing viewpoints and still be cordial. Understanding does not mean acceptance. It simply means you have a broader frame of reference for where and why an individual may think or act the way they do. My wife and I have eight children, from age 21 to 1. And the ten of us still live in the same home. I promise you that there are daily opportunities where I see a person doing something that I do not approve of. And often the justification for it is their age. “Don’t give her too hard a time, she’s only three” or “She didn’t realize that leaving the refrigerator open was a bad idea” We accept poor behavior from children because we recognize that they maybe haven’t learned yet what actions lead to what consequences. And yet, miraculously at the age of 18 we assume that everyone understands everything and that if they feel or act in a certain way that isn’t in alignment with our own belief system or moral compass, they are somehow wrong, or stupid, or out to get us. Almost immediately the conversation about the topic at hand becomes heated, angry and relationships become damaged. We take shit too personally.
I don’t accept that my child’s misbehavior is ok because they are misinformed or unaware though. I may not punish them because I understand where they are coming from, but I do share with them my own broader understanding and hold them accountable for their actions. It is how we learn. Actions have consequences and we get to decide if those consequences are reasonable or unreasonable to us. Then we make a decision, often knowing there will be some sort of trade off. We understand how it works. This same concept applies to the broader relationships we have in the outside world. The major difference is we are not living under the same roof and the actions of others, almost always, have little to no consequence, or impact, on our daily lives. And yet, we act as if everything everyone else is doing is somehow our business and ours to cure. When in reality, it very rarely is.
Rather than telling a person they are wrong, or that what they are doing is inappropriate, I want to invite you to ask them why. Why they made that choice, how they came to the conclusion about the topic or action at hand. Without judgement. Ask questions and find out what their motivation was. And then listen. Allow them to share their insight and experience. Regardless of whether or not you disagree or not. And if you do have a different perspective, share it with compassion. Use phrases like ‘have you considered’ or ‘is there another option you could try’ as opposed to ‘What you should have done was’ or ‘Well that’s just dumb’ which is what I so often see in the course of conversation. And be mindful that if the tide was turned, how quickly are you to become defensive about your own choices or positions? What I have learned from others with opposing opinions has been invaluable to me in expanding my ability to be vulnerable, and to allow them to do the same.
In the current climate we are in, where divisiveness and an ‘us vs them’ culture is seemingly being constantly perpetuated, now it is more important than ever to learn how to have intelligent, composed discourse.