To keep you growing is to keep you vulnerable to life and love itself. -Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance
Two weeks after the presidential election, the yelling and fighting continues. It’s not outlandish or hyperbolic to think that this will continue for some time, long past the inauguration in January. For many, the election may cause unrest for the upcoming holidays – times that could very well be tense with family and friends.
The anger over what we are seeing in this country is justified. Threats against people of color, degrading comments about women, and the inhospitable and violent rhetoric about immigrants should rightly provoke anger. We should be speaking out against these positions. We should be formulating action plans to stop policy of this sort from being put into place. Trump has incited anxiety and fueled longstanding fears that have driven many to mean-spiritedness. Communities are broken. Even our most sacred spaces – our faith communities and sanctuaries are not spared.
This election season has brought out the worst in us. And with each passing day that divisions continue to break our communities up, Trump wins a bit more. We together can stop this.
But first we have to listen. And listening during these times can seem like risky business.
Let’s face it, the current approach to disagreement is not effective. One person says something that another disagrees with, seemingly with their whole being. The first person retorts back, quickly and often without much thought. Parties are offended. People yell, either in person, or more likely from behind a screen. Degrading names are lobbed each way as easily as a volleyball. This just isn’t working.
We need to listen.
I am reminded by the words of Soren Kierkegaard, who once said in The Point of View for my Work as an Author, “In all eternity, it is impossible for me to compel a person to accept an opinion, a conviction, a belief. But one thing I can do: I can compel him to take notice.” Kierkegaard here is talking about the attitude and approach in which we pursue conversation. It is obvious, especially in these post-election days, that most people have deeply rooted beliefs that are not easily changed. And in the eye of the beholder, all of our personal beliefs are entirely rational, justified, and beyond objection. Is it any wonder why simple conversation appears to have disappeared?
Listening begins with being open. Openness is vulnerability. Here’s a little secret about vulnerability: we really hate it. Yet vulnerability may be the thing that leads to personal growth. In The Divine Dance, Rohr writes that vulnerability is risky because “it is a “constant openness to the other – because it would mean others could sometimes actually wound you. But only if we choose to risk do we also allow the exact opposite possibility: the other might also gift you, free you, and even love you.”
This vulnerability is something that we must choose to enter into. The moment we try to force it upon someone else, their shields go up, they become defensive. Each of us must decide to enter into this vulnerability individually. It’s what Brene Brown in Rising Strong calls “the rumble” and we must choose “to feel uncertain and vulnerable as we rumble with the truth…(it’s) a conscious choice. A brave, conscious choice.”
Thanksgiving feasts have competition for the center of attention this holiday season. There’s a Trump beast threatening to cause conflict and yelling. Maybe it’s best to avoid the political commentary during holidays. But if you can’t avoid, conversation can be edifying and progressive. Here’s a few suggestions:
(1) Ask yourself what your triggers are, and make them known. Get in front of the frustration that so often leads to anger. They may also be the triggers for those to whom you are conversing.
(2) Vocalize the uncomfortable. Name the “buzz words” that are so polarizing and commit to not using them.
(3) Intentionally slow your speech – talking fast can be interpreted as antagonistic and confrontational. Take time to articulate your point. Ask if you are being clear.
(4) Give others the time to speak. We’re bad at this. We tend to want both the first and last words, and in the midst of it the conversation becomes a conversation with self rather than with others.
(5) Be honest about how this election has impacted you. This has been a tiresome season. The political rhetoric has been offensive. It has also directly targeted specific people groups. There is no way to escape this unscathed. Couple that with the commentary that comes at us from every direction, we all feel wounded – certainly some more than others. Share this hurt. Share legitimate fears. Discuss how to avoid this. Most important, name hope that you have and how you can communally pursue those hopes to make them a reality.
(6) Agree to continue talking. Our society is one that likes to word vomit. We tend to get it all out there, and settle for however the conversation ends. No. The end of a conversation is not the end of the conversation. Understanding takes time, and is not likely to be complete after one or two talks.
In his (delusional) quest to make America great again, Trump seems to be dragging us all into a street fight. The lone beauty in this chaos is that we have the ability to stop this from happening. It begins with the simplest concepts: listen, learn, love.