I don’t usually find listening to public radio overly stressful, but this weekend’s edition of This American Life had me churning. The episode Red State Blue State featured a series of stories of relationships among friends, family members, neighbors and more that were damaged or severed over political affiliations and whom they intended to vote for. In a country where most people live in communities that are largely blue or red, people with minority political views in their community need increasing courage to speak their convictions, or even, sometimes just to live their lives. I found the story of a pair of sisters especially heartbreaking.
At one point, the sisters’ breakdown was so severe they were not speaking. They agreed to talk with Phil Neisser and Jacob Hess, authors of You’re Not as Crazy as I Thought (But You’re Still Wrong), a book of advice for “how liberals and conservatives can have more productive conversations.” Turns out one of the sisters backed out.
Their advice to the other sister? Listen for understanding – try to learn why the person thinks and feels as they do – without trying to change the other person’s mind.
Sounds simple enough, but I think it is one of the hardest things to do in life! It’s fundamentally a spiritual journey, an exercise in humility and compassion, an expression of sacrificial love. In moments like these, I have to remind myself that I should seek first to understand, then [maybe, possibly, but not necessarily] to be understood [at some later date, if at all]. Sometimes my desire to correct and inform is complicated by defensiveness and a desire not to be judged—the need to demonstrate that I am, in fact, a thinking person, even if I disagree with the other person. Like many difficult conversations, I find this easier at work than at home! Social distance creates opportunities to catch myself much more easily.
What helps you to listen authentically with a desire to understand the other person’s view? What helps you to let go of the urge to correct or persuade? And, what helps you to have peace with a person whose views you cannot abide?