My wife and I are wrapping up our annual winter vacation to visit family in Florida. Each year this proves to be something of a spiritual practice for me, and this trip has been no different. As wonderful as it is to slow down, un-hunch shoulders, and wear fewer layers, the focus of my practice tends not to be the natural surroundings and climate so much as what I find to be the challenging social environment.
Vero Beach is a rather conservative and wealthy community. Generally it does not take long before my blood pressure rises to see the sprawl and McMansions and to overhear disparaging comments about views I espouse (e.g. “Climate change is such a crock.”). As a result we generally try to spend a fair amount of time at the beach, local parks and nature sanctuaries.
This time around, however, I made an effort to check my self-righteousness and bring some intention to the gap I no doubt contribute to creating between myself and these perceived others. To this end I have been guided by the thought leadership of Marshall Rosenberg and Jonathan Haidt, as well as a call to practice what I teach.
Marshall Rosenberg has long promoted Non-Violent Communication. In recently listening to his recording Speaking Peace, I was reminded of the important step of asking, “What needs are being expressed by behavior that upsets you?” Just getting curious about this has helped me be proactive in striking up conversation with people I would otherwise avoid. In one case it led to some insights about why one gentleman obsessively develops land (desire for approval). Just that understanding has been enough to generate some compassion, while I maintain my belief that these needs could be met in more sustainable ways.
As for social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, he has done some fascinating research about the moral differences between people at opposite ends of the political spectrum. What he suggests is that liberals and conservatives are “expert” in different and important moral aspects of human existence. For example, liberals tend to be better at thinking about victimization and equality, conservatives excel when it comes to considerations of group loyalty and respecting tradition. And so I have been called to pause and look for wisdom underlying socio-political perspectives different from my own.
Lastly, at IISC we preach “listening as an ally”, or using inquiry to break down walls while leading with an attitude of curiosity and empathy over judgment and distrust. I have been well served by heeding the reminder to practice this and again amazed by what such listening can make happen. And what about your own efforts to bridge such gaps? What have you found to be helpful?