When did talking to each other become so hard? Somewhere along the way, maybe as the church lost its importance in our communities, it became easier to sort ourselves into groups rather than gather as a whole. We began to hang out more and more with others who shared our lifestyle, or interests, or education, or had similar financial means. I know this happened to me. I was a teacher in the public system, so I certainly ran into a mixed pot of people at work, but when I came home and got comfortable, I spent most of my time with the same group of friends. Talking to these people was easy because, for the most part, we shared the same values and rarely had disagreements of any serious kind. That’s the problem.
We get lulled into thinking that everyone is like us and thinks like us. So it comes as a BIG surprise when we discover differently. Think of last year’s American election and the shock awaiting the Democrats and much of the rest of the world when the results came in. Where were we? It seems all of us surprised people had not been talking to Trump supporters. I vowed then and there that I wouldn’t knowingly allow myself to be so isolated and naive again.
If we’re going to move in closer to others who think differently, we have to practice talking to each other and this isn’t easy in these emotionally and politically charged times. I find that it helps to be generous to people who I disagree with. My generosity is made easier when I look for things we have in common. I find that most of us want at least some of the same things for our families and loved ones. Getting to these shared places is the tricky part.
Where I live in Quebec the government has just passed Bill 62 which does not allow Muslim women wearing the niqab or burka from receiving public services while covered. This blog post is not about that issue per se but about the discourse around this issue. It is polarizing because it has all the elements that make it a “hot” topic. It touches on fears and freedoms, oppression, misogyny, religion, and race.
I had two very different discussions around this issue. In the first, there was a feeling that people were locked into their positions so fiercely there was no room for dialogue. A real exchange can’t happen when people aren’t open to listening to each other, don’t agree on the “facts,” nor have a willingness to find common ground. I felt discouraged.
I had another dialogue a few days later with someone else which had a totally different flavour and gave me hope that we can find ways to work ourselves out of this great divide. We did not agree, but as soon as I spoke I could see that she was listening to me and maybe even finding what I had to say interesting. She didn’t feel the same way as I did and brought up her own points. I listened and was thoughtful. In that moment, I knew that in order to find our way out of this mess this is exactly the kind of conversation we need to be having with each other.
I long for more of these talks, now that I know it’s possible. Maybe we can change the world one discussion at a time.
*Some of the language “to sort ourselves” and “to move in closer” comes from theories researched by Brené Brown in her book Braving the Wilderness. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in finding your way to “true belonging.”