Specifically, in recent weeks, I’ve been contemplating how to share ideas around feminine leadership without immediately putting men on the defensive. My concern is in the very first few seconds of engagement certain words will trigger a defense cord and I will have ruined any opportunity for sharing new ways of seeing the world. I keep revisiting this because as much as I hate to admit it, I’d very likely do the same thing if the roles were reversed. What I’m trying to figure out is how to communicate in a way that invites shared understanding.
The heightened emotions following this election and the sharp dialogue from both sides of the table throughout magnified for me how much we are all struggling to do this. To state the obvious, the communication cycle we are in is unhealthy and destructive. Everything about it feels gross and vile to all of us. Hence the many Facebook posts from our friends saying they’re checking out until everything cools down and we go back to ignoring how divided we all really are.
Frankly, it’s a rather appealing option and one I almost chose last night. But, I could no longer ignore this pain inside of me that is saying, “No, please do not turn away. This is not the time to shut down.” We’re all exhausted because these issues are so deeply important and yet we seem to only be creating harm when we try to address them. So, it is much easier to take a break and go back to “sleep”; but, I just can’t. And, I don’t want you to either.
We all want to be heard, but more than that, we all want to be understood. So, how can we transcend our current state of communication gridlock? How can we go deeper and really begin to hear and understand another’s perspective? Following the advice of the great sages throughout humanity who say if you want to change the world start by looking within, I asked myself some questions.
What can I do differently to ensure that I stay open to other’s thoughts and ideas? How do I break down some of my own preconceived notions and assumptions? How can I do unto others, as I would have them do unto me?
These questions led me to ask why do I do what I do in the first place. If my actions are to reflect the belief that every human being has a right to his or her personal truths, then why do I feel such a visceral rejection when someone else’s truths do not align with my own?
The conclusion I came to is on a very deep level we all recognize our connectedness. When we close off a part of our heart and mind to another, this energy intensely clashes with a fundamental law of nature, and our desire to bond with others.
Naturally, we want to strengthen the connections with those we value and respect. So, of course, we shy away from having conversations that we fear might damage something we value. However, in doing this, when these issues do arise they are handled in unproductive ways.
What we resist persist.
Again, I asked how could I have conversations with those who think differently than me in a way that feels safe for both of us?
For me, this means consciously letting go of what I think the other person is going to say. It means letting go of why I think they are the way they are. It means letting go of the urge to step into debate mode, to be defensive, to try and change someone else. It means opening my heart and mind more, instead of closing up.
As I sat with the “how” of receiving, what surfaced for me was to approach these types of discussions through the presence of a learner. This means being eager to receive information about something I know nothing about. It means to actively listen, without judgment. It means asking lots of questions in an effort to UNDERSTAND. It means I have to listen until I can say, “I get it. I see where you are coming from.” It means shifting my intention from wanting to be heard and understood and instead placing my intention on hearing and understanding another. After I have listened and learned in a way that honors the other person, then, they have the option of doing the same.
The idea is to alleviate the potential for one person to be right and the other wrong. Our ways of seeing the world do not have to be mutually exclusive. We all need to see clearly. This includes being able to see through the eyes of another.
I believe one of the most dangerous things we can do is to focus on our differences; this is what is dividing us. Instead, we must actively and continually seek to find, recognize, and honor our commonalities. It is here where we discover our shared humanity. It is from this place that we can create in the most healthy, productive and meaningful ways.
So, I’ll continue to try and I hope you will too.