As divisions in our nation deepen, so does my passion for dialoging with people who hold other perspectives from my own. My decision to stay in Comer, Georgia following my time at Jubilee Partners was based partly in my yearning for connection and communication amidst discord. In this county, 77% of us voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election. Few places could afford me more people with differing perspectives, at least politically. So how is it going, my intention to have honest, open sharing with the folks around me? A few thoughts:
- Resources abound to support positive interactions. Search civil discourse and choose your favorite manual, program, how-to-talk-to-each-other guide. I love Matthew Hale’s 12 Rules for Civil Conversation written in 1692 (which goes to show that societal infighting is nothing new). Example: Rule #4. Let your words be few, lest you rob yourself at the opportunity to gain knowledge, wisdom, and experience by listening to those whom you silence by your “impertinent talking.”
- I find telling our stories key to developing trust and understanding. In fact, coming away from a difficult exchange on an issue, it occurred to me that the other person and I had stated our positions but not told our stories of how and why we came to that point. Example: On official business in a police station, I felt suspicious of the officer. Then he recounted coming under fire a few days before from an ak-47. His adrenaline was up again and fear in his eyes re-living that awful moment—and then he told me that, after 20 years in law enforcement, it was the first time he had fired his gun in the line of duty. Knowing his story changed me, opened me to relationship, to dialogue.
- Surface relationships are easy. Courtesy and friendliness are natural in most social settings, I think. But I try to see this pleasant back and forth as a stepping stone to meaningful conversation rather than avoidance of it. Example: After a few conversations with the service manager at the shop where I get my car serviced, we have now talked about race and gender transition with mutual respect despite our disagreement.
When any of us go low, I just want us all to breathe deeply and, starting with our own humble stories, go high.
Do you have a story to tell about civil dialogue in a contentious society? Or suggestions how to make it happen?
If someone else’s view is different from ours, is it fine just to think “you can’t change stupid” and go on? Seriously…