As I said in the previous two blog posts, one of the most healing things we can do at this time is to communicate. At a time when there is so much divisiveness, it is so important that we talk to each other about how we are feeling and thinking. However, what I have seen more often than not, is how poorly these conversations can go. I see people yelling at each other or going down a rabbit hole of past mistakes to justify current issues and that is never helpful. So I wanted to give some tips on how we can all talk to each other in a way that brings about healing and cohesiveness.
Talk to understand
This is one of the key elements to a healthy conversation. We need to understand each other more than we need to win or bring someone over onto “our side”. In fact the best thing we can probably all do is to forget that there are even any such things as sides. Instead, we need to have conversations with the sole purpose of understanding what each person believes and feels about the current issues the world is facing. It is only once we understand each other that we can go about the process of healing and creating solutions.
The only way you can understand where others are coming from is to listen. Real listening is different than hearing. Alan Alda said that “real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you”. When you listen to someone, you allow their words to enter you and then think about everything that was said. This requires you to be in the present moment with that person and make them feel heard. It means not talking over them, focusing on something else, or planning what you will say next.
It is human nature to make assumptions, and oftentimes we hear what someone says and make assumptions that may or may not be true. It's also easy for people to say one thing while meaning another, especially when discussing difficult topics. That's why it's important to reflect back what you heard in order to make sure that you have understood the other person's meaning. Use language like, “what I hear you saying is”, “just so I understand, you feel…”, or “So in your view,... is that correct”. It's also important to allow them to clarify if they think you misunderstood and don't hold them to your original understanding if they say that's not what they meant.
If you want people to talk to you, you can't be judgemental about what you assume they think and feel. In our over politicized culture, we tend to put people in a box and believe that all republicans, all democrats, all black people, all cops, or all whomever, think and believe the same things. However, what I have found more often than not, is that most people have nuanced opinions and very rarely do you get someone who is 100% in line with a specific group. So try to go into a conversation with a beginner's mind, assuming that you know nothing about what the person you are talking to thinks or feels, and when they do tell you what they are feeling try not to judge them for it even if it's different from your opinion.
Part of suspending judgement is being curious. Instead of accepting what someone says at face value, be willing to dig deeper. Ask them why they feel that way, or what personal experiences they have had regarding the subject you are discussing. It’s really easy to make assumptions when we don't ask qualifying questions. For example, if you are talking to someone who says they dont like all the protests going on, it would be really easy to assume that they are racist and don't believe in the BLM movement. However, if you dig deeper and ask more questions, what you might find out is that person has been experiencing extreme anxiety over the coronavirus and the protests have them panicking that the numbers will go up again, but they have been donating to BLM charities. This extra information might change your entire way of viewing them. So always be willing to find out the why beneath the words.
Stay in the present
One of the more infuriating things that I have seen over and over again is when people bring up what others have done in the past instead of staying on the issue that is happening in the present. You see this a lot in political debates. For example, let's say we are talking about the environment and someone is saying that they are against a current policy by the administration because it allows for a depletion of natural resources. Inevitably, during the conversation someone on the “other side” will bring up an equally bad policy enacted by a previous administration as a way to contradict what the first person has said. This makes absolutely no sense and does nothing in helping us move forward. Every administration or group has made mistakes or done something that others don't agree with, but if we continue to use that as a justification for current wrongdoings we will never move forward as a country. The goal should be to grow, which requires us to learn from our mistakes and do better with what we have learned.
I know that these discussions are difficult and it would be a lot easier to push them aside and never talk about the current issues. However, if we are going to heal and go about the process of creating positive change, these conversations have to happen. I am hoping that these tips make it a little bit easier, and I hope that we start to see and feel the healing.