Democrat or Republican. Mask or no mask. Vaccine or no vaccine.
There is no shortage of things we humans can disagree about. There’s the strongly spiritual or religious and the atheists, the conservative viewpoints and the liberal … the list goes on and on. And there is the actual physical and psychological differences between people; race, color, culture, and preferences such as sexual orientation… more differences to disagree over.
And where does all this divisiveness get us? Certainly not to a place of inner or relational health and wellbeing.
Families, coworkers, neighbors are split over so many issues that each person may feel strongly about. And the divisiveness is palatable. Sometimes it’s subtle, as in the quiet distancing away from people who hold different views then us, and sometimes the divisiveness can be loud and angry.
We humans are built with a limbic brain- and it is our emotional brain that can run amok if we do not keep it in check. In other words, it’s not that the opinions or viewpoints that we hold are bad, or wrong, it’s that we often get swept away with emotion based on our beliefs that our opinions are the only one right way. And we lose the ability to keep our emotions under control. Too often this is the case. How many arguments have you had with your spouse, a relative, a friend, a coworker simply because they hold a very different viewpoint than the one you hold?
The stress from all this divisiveness is not good for any of us. It is causing many people to feel less and less safe, and more and more anxious.
It does not have to be this way. There is a remedy for this collective relational and societal dissension, but it will take all of us. As tempting as this will be to stick this blog under the nose of the most argumentative person you know, be sure you let it sink in for yourself and practice these suggestions first.
RELEARN HOW TO LISTEN. Most of us barely hear the words that go whizzing by us because we gear up for our quick retort back, so often we miss both the spoken and unspoken message of the person talking. Give them their time to talk. When they are done, summarize what you heard them say. ( We call this active/reflective listening). This does not mean you agree, it just means you are actually listening which provides emotional safety in the relationship.
IGNITE YOUR CURIOUSITY – Ever watch a child or young children play together? They are curious about everything! What is this, how does it work, how come… Children are full of inquisitiveness that we adults could learn a thing or two about. Being curious again does not mean you will agree with another person, but can we learn to have that be ok? People are all different- we all enter into situations and opinions based on the meld of a number of things; family of origin learning, our experiences, values, belief systems are all at play. What if we just stay curious about other people without the need to jump to judgment?
REMEMBER THE ART OF ASKING QUESTIONS- Asking questions is the best way to not only engage in meaningful conversation about the issues of the day, it also is required if we are going to engage with another human being. If we practice asking questions, and keep our curiosity at the forefront we can keep safety in our relationships and dig deeper to find why someone believes what they do. Asking questions conveys that we want to know someone- a far more beneficial goal than talking at someone to convince them of our opinions.
SEEK TO CONNECT RATHER THAN BE RIGHT. This is a hard one for many. Ultimately if being right, or trying to convince someone your opinions are right becomes the goal the relationship if there is any left, will suffer. Convincing others feels good when we are successful at it- which is why many keep doing it. It provides us with validation – however when the cost is the relationship that is a high price to pay. If we value any of our relationships we must learn to engage and talk WITH one another and not AT them.
Somewhere along the way, I sense that too many of us lost our way and went down the rabbit hole of thinking that our opinions are the one and only one true and right way to think. That has led to a lot of divisiveness, distress, and discontent both at home and in the workplace, at a time when the BEST thing we can do is unite in our humanity and connect in these difficult times that we are all experiencing. One of these paths leads to physical, emotional, mental and sometimes spiritual distress, while the other enhances our wellbeing. Today shift your priority from being “right” ( in your own eyes) to being in relationship where the relationship can tolerate and embrace differences. Let’s try less convincing and more loving and see what positive effects that may have on our overall health and wellbeing.