It happens every single day. I don’t think any of us can remember the last time we went 24 hours without being exposed to polarizing news or opinions on our social media feeds or in our real-life relationships.
When we encounter “difference” in another, particularly politically, we feel may feel confused, angry, self-righteous, judgemental, frustrated, disappointed, hopeless and sad. We feel all the things. At that point we may try and engage - we try and get them to see it from our perspective, to study the ‘science’ or to consume the ‘right’ news outlets. It feels like noone is listening, everyone is shouting, we feel scared and overwhelmed and so in an effort to protect our peace we shut down and we shut them out. We retreat towards the comfort of our position, and the people who share it.
We’re fertilizing the division that is shaking our world to its bones.
I know that there are things we may or will struggle to reconcile in our differences, but if you are feeling exhausted, scared, confused and isolated from people. If you are watching your relationships with your friends, parents, siblings and brothers and sisters in faith crumble under the weight of difference… then here are some thoughts I would invite you to consider.
Warning: Our cultural disposition is one where we are asked to always pick a side. There is always a winner or a loser, an ultimate victor and the failures left in the dust. Our culture would have us believe there is zero gray space. That life is all or nothing.
I do not subscribe to this way of thinking about the human experience. I believe it is suffocating and destructive. You’ll struggle with the rest of this post if you want to hold on to the safety of “black and white, right and wrong”... If you want to venture out into grayspace, if you are willing to at least try to hold tension, to get curious about the world around you and the people in it, if you desire connection and courage, then this is a way forward for you.
Acknowledge, get curious about, understand and engage the emotions around an issue.
A strong sentiment in our culture is that feelings are either truth or they are lies. I would invite you to consider them, ‘data’ - information. I would also ask that you consider them to be an invitation to connect with another, to see them, and to help them feel safe and understood.
Our emotional responses to life tell us about our beliefs, about the experiences we have had in life and about what matters to us. They are also a platform for connection. When you allow yourself to get curious about the experience of another person, especially when the think differently to you - emotions will provide you with common ground. We all feel scared, helpless, angry, worried. We all have concerns about the world our children will grow up in and we all know what it's feels like to worry about death. Even if those aren’t present concerns for us, we probably have experienced them before and can empathize with how or what people are experiencing about the world.
I believe that one of the reasons so many of us refuse to venture into the ‘enemy territory’ of our ‘opponents’ experiences is that we are threatened by the truth of their experience. We are probably worried that, if we are confronted by the reality of their lives we will be forced to reconsider our own. We are so committed to being right, or believing we are right, that we lose all ability to “get it right” for ourselves and for others.
This requires a posture that assumes we don’t know everything, that we cannot possibly even if we try. It requires humility. The willingness to admit that we may be getting it wrong, that we may have some learning or growing to do. That despite our best efforts or intentions, we are hurting others through our choices.
I would like to invite you to consider that you can see, experience and empathise deeply with someone, and still not agree with them. That you can see their fear, their anger, their anxiety and grief, and instead of judging it as right or wrong, extend love and acceptance to the person on the other side of an issue as you.
The thing is, we all want people to do this for us, but we are unwilling to take the step and do it for another.
It's VULNERABLE to enter into the world of another and be willing to see things from their perspective.
It's VULNERABLE to admit that you also know what it's like to feel scared, angry, anxious or sad.
It's VULNERABLE to be gracious with these emotions and these experiences of another, especially if you have a very hard time being gracious with yourself when you have them too.
I have had moments when my willingness to see things from the perspective of another has changed my mind about something. It was hard and uncomfortable and I HATED having to say to myself and to my people - I was wrong about that… I am going to make a different choice now, and I may need to admit that further down the road, I will still not have it 100% right. Can I hang in there with myself, and give myself permission to figure it out as I go? Can I hang in there with others as they do the same?
I have had moments where I have sat and listened to and understood completely why someone made a choice that I absolutely disagreed with. I have maintained my commitments in those moments, but I released the other to maintain theirs. I can do so in complete love and respect for them. I can stay turned toward them even when we disagree. I can stay connected even when it's hard.
Stay tuned for Parts 2 & 3, for now - How can you lean into and try your utmost to understand the experience or perspective of another? How can you turn toward them and communicate your understanding, love and respect for them, even in disagreement?
I have hosted a training called “How to say no without ruining your relationships” … click the link to join if you need to figure out how to do that.