I’m particularly interested in connection and how we relate to others these days. Probably because it’s one area of my life that could use some work. There is always something to learn, and I am curious about how to improve my own relationships. So much of our time is spent with other people.
At a gathering in December, I found the topic of conversation splintering away from books. I chose the veering path of politics. In the back of my mind I was conscious of the fact that I was not going to run in fear from a potentially uncomfortable conversation. Naively I believed our thinking was the same. Quickly I learned this was not the case. Not only did we have differing opinions, but I was learning a bit about why she believed the way she did.
I’ve been told it isn’t polite to talk about politics in mixed company. I’ve held that belief for most of my life. Then I realized this was the first opportunity I had to try out what I’m learning about conversation. What had worked in the past, avoidance, wasn’t the choice I was going to make. My stomach turned a bit as fear grabbed hold. This was a complicated conversation in a year when topics relating to politics seem to devolve quickly.
Conscious of my choices, I turned towards my friend and smiled and listened. We were both tenuous, but we pushed past fear towards each other. I made eye contact with her even when we disagreed. We were apart on our thinking but we were connected in the conversation. I asked her questions through the framework: where are you coming from, what do you believe now, and where are you headed? As we drifted back towards books, I felt a deeper understanding of her point of view and a greater willingness to put politics aside. We agreed that we were both well read and cared deeply about our convictions and that thoughtful, rational, people could come at issues from different perspectives.
The scariest thing in complicated conversation is making yourself vulnerable to thinking and beliefs that are not your own. Society tells us if we listen to other ideas they might persuade our beliefs, or conversely, we might be rejected for our differences. Those are distinct possibilities. If we don’t let go of the fears we have about relating to others we will stay isolated and closed. It is a choice to move towards people through discomfort and fear.
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