Sometimes I fly off the handle.
Usually, I can keep my cool. I can take a step back, listen, smile, try to find some common ground. Even excuse myself and walk away, if I have to.
But then, without warning, when it’s an issue I care deeply about, I’ll find myself defending my “turf” without even realizing it. Defending what I mistakenly believe to be my identity. (Which ends up being nothing more than a list of preferences.)
Recently I’ve caught myself doing just that. I won’t go into the details… pick an issue that you’re passionate about and you’ll know where I’m coming from. The conversation, if we could call it that, was degenerating quickly. A few e-mail salvos fired across one another’s bow, and I was ready to shrug it off and walk away… check the box marked “spam” and move on.
But then I thought of my friend Michael Rendon.
Recently Michael was speaking to our Leadership La Plata class, and he shared that, as mayor, he’s happy to sit down with anyone and discuss any topic. He’s willing (eager!) to look at the other side of the coin and consider where the other person is coming from. Because at the end of the day, as he put it, “we’re going to have SOMETHING in common.”
And even if that ‘something’ is as basic as ‘we both want to be happy’, that seems like good enough reason for me to try (TRY) to set my own resistance aside and really try to hear and understand what the other person is saying. Feeling. Living.
So, with Michael’s example in mind, here’s what I wrote back to the person I disagreed with:
“I’m not interested in trying to change your thinking, or your beliefs. I know it would be futile anyway. I’m happy to continue talking with you and sharing ideas. I can agree to respect your views without trying to convince you of anything.
“Can you agree to respect mine without trying to change MY mind about things? Because, honestly, when it comes to religion and politics you and I see the world VERY differently. I’m happy to consider where you’re coming from; and at the same time, it’s a LOT easier for me to honestly listen and consider your viewpoint when I’m not feeling attacked or judged.
“So, what do you say? Is it possible for you and me to move forward and have calm and RESPECTFUL discussions about tough issues?”
Suddenly, I’m off the hook. I’m already a winner. Because I’m honestly working to create the conditions for shared understanding. My happiness is no longer tied to convincing the other person to agree with me. The person I’m talking to has hopes, dreams, fears, preferences, and struggles. Just like me. At the end of the day, we’re really not so different.
What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you handle those moments when someone’s position seems to be diametrically opposed to yours? Do you struggle like I do? Do you ever use this struggle as material for your music?