As a communication specialist, I spend my life studying the dynamics of human connection and conversation, and I think I have a pretty good grasp on what it takes to interact in healthy and productive ways.
The problem is… I can’t always deliver. (Embarrassing to admit, but true).
Recently, I’ve had many opportunities to deconstruct “conversations gone bad,” and have been working hard to learn, grow, and do better.
I’d like to share something I’ve learned.
In many conversations, differences of opinion add interest, texture, and depth.
Differences, when approached with awe, wonder, and humility, allow us to expand our world view, experience empathy (one of the most profoundly fulfilling human emotions), and build bridges that connect people, communities and cultures.
Think about it!
To me, that’s exhilarating!
We are open to so many differences!
BUT NOT ALL.
(This next part is not true for everyone, thank goodness, but I’m seeing more and more of this in relationships where I never thought it would exist, so with your permission, I’ll continue to illustrate my main point.)
Why do we treat these topics so differently?
Why do we shut the door on curiosity when specific topics arise?
Why do certain topics ignite self-righteousness and the compulsion to speak LOUDER and more DECLARATIVELY instead of to pause, ask questions, and seek to understand?
Why do we assert, in our minds, that YOU are the problem, and YOU need to change?
These questions have been heavy on my mind for the last few years, as I’ve been on both sides of these stunted and un-curious conversations, and I can tell you, they don’t lead to anything but separateness and pain.
There are lots of reasons this happens, but here’s how I see it…
We’ve come to believe that some differences represent a threat to our safety. (And some DO… but I’m talking about the ones that are just conversation between friends.)
When we feel that our safety is threatened, we get agitated and uncomfortable.
We don’t like to be uncomfortable.
We might sub-consciously start to feel like our “status” in the relationship is threatened… or that we simply don’t know how to relate under these circumstances.
So we fight, or we fly, or we freeze.
But the real problem, my friends, is NOT the other person, and it's NOT that there are differences, it's that we aren’t very good at sitting patiently with our discomfort.
We spend our time and energy trying to make the differences GO AWAY, when what we really need to be working on is being more comfortable in a world of difference.
If we could get more comfortable in our discomfort, we could explore other people’s opinions and the life experiences that brought them there.
We could broaden our own understanding of issues, find our shared humanity, and we might even be able to find some workable solutions to the complex problems that we face.
We need this.
We need to pause, find our humility, awe and wonder, settle our reactive minds, and LISTEN to UNDERSTAND.
This is my commitment.
It’s not easy.
I won't do it perfectly.
But I do believe it’s a good solid start toward a better world, and I WILL KEEP TRYING.
It’s up to us, and the time is now.
Will you join me?
*Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash