We’ve all heard, especially around the holidays when we are gathering with relatives, to avoid conversations about politics and religion at the dinner table so that you may keep the peace. That is a microcosm of the polarities we have been talking about in our last posts. Is it possible to find that space between the polarities – developing greater creativity, flexibility, and responsiveness – to bridge our differences? Is it possible to have peaceful dinner table conversations about politics and religion?
In the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I entered into a political discussion with a dear friend who has very different views from mine. We had never talked politics before. Going in – and I don’t remember exactly how our discussion began – it felt like a leap into the unknown. One minute we were talking about the Olympics and the next minute we were talking about gun control. I was highly aware while this conversation was under way that I valued our friendship. I wanted this to play out well, and I wanted to speak my truth AND find agreement. I wanted all of this to happen with civility and respect.
It was challenging! It was most challenging when I was trying to convince him of my position or to change his view. Those times where I wanted him to agree with me felt full of force. There was no yelling or disrespect; however, my tone said, “How can you possibly think that?” I wanted him to “come to my side”, to agree with me. I wanted to change his mind. I wanted him to desire change as much as I did.
It was least challenging when I was listening. He believed that teachers should be armed. I highly disagree, and yet I listened. Then I discovered something incredibly meaningful – that he wanted them to be armed so that they would at least have a fighting chance. It was from a place of deep caring. I also learned that he highly values the process of our government. When I said that the process wasn’t working because our children were dying and no steps were being taken to prevent it, he suggested electing candidates who supported gun control so that they can change the laws. Again, my desire for action kicked in. I wanted to argue for action NOW; however, we continued to re-focus on where we could find agreement. We found several points, including the need for campaign finance reform.
In retrospect, I learned that discussions like these can be challenging and clumsy yet civil. Going into dinner table discussions with the intention to listen, to understand, and to learn – going in curious – makes a difference. Once force enters the picture with the desire to change the other person’s mind, it becomes a subtle or not-so-subtle power struggle. This conversation with my friend bounced between understanding and trying to convince him of my “rightness”.
Although they don’t typically change someone else’s mind, conversations with those whose views differ from ours can open the door to greater understanding. We may get hung up believing that conversations like this DO create change. Locked in that spiral of heightened energy, we believe that we must convince the other person of our rightness or change won’t happen. Change isn’t going to happen over the dinner table. It isn’t going to happen on Facebook. To create change we must bring our determination – accompanied by our increased understanding from these conversations – into a different arena. Then we mean business.
We can be both determined to create change and determined to understand one another.