You know that old saying about how you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics at the dinner table? I think that’s bunk! Sure, it will keep things easier. But really and truly the path to a better future for us all lies not in avoiding “hard” topics, but in talking about them lots … ESPECIALLY with people whose views differ from yours and mine!
Ordinarily, especially when it comes to issues near and dear to our hearts, the best we think we can do is “agree to disagree” when we’re met by people whose thoughts conflict with ours. While, I admit that may be the end result, I think there’s a better, healthier, and more life-giving going in stance. Instead of “agree to disagree”, what if we adopted the mentality of “agree to listen, understand, and move toward each other”, while also being perfectly fine with disagreeing?
Two helpful buzzwords when it comes to this approach are Mutuality and Curiosity. Curiosity means we CHOOSE to be honestly and authentically interested in the views, opinions, and beliefs of another person. We decide to engage them about what they think, and take the time to probe deeper by asking how their story and life helped get them to that place.
Mutuality is when we mindfully move toward the “other” person (and vice-versa). In short, it’s when we listen to her or him so well that we allow our selves, our views, and/or our beliefs to be changed by her/him … or at least we leave room for this possibility (and vice-versa).
Now, curiosity and mutuality are pretty doable when it comes to how we approach people like us. That said, the more we differ, the harder it becomes. When was the last time a Republican listened to a Democrat (or the other way around) and after listening responded by saying, “That’s an excellent point. You really got me thinking differently on that topic. I’ll have to reconsider my stance”? Pretty much never, right?
This leads me to two of my very best friends in the world … but first a word on “them.” I think “them” is quite possibly the WORST four-letter word in the world. Way more harmful than the S-word or F-word. Now, I think it’s totally legitimate and helpful to use the word “them” to communicate and help make distinctions; so I’m not talking about that, instead, I’m getting at a mentality.
When we think of a person or people group as “them”, we effectively categorize them as inferior to us, less correct than us, less smart than us, less good than us, and so on. Think about it, if you’re a Republican the Democrats become “them”, and if you didn’t think their views were inferior, less correct, less smart, less good, and so on, you’d be a Democrat instead … right? The same thing applies to Christian and Muslim, Catholic and Protestant, Seahawks fan and 49ers fan, Red Sox fan and Yankees fan, and so on.
By mentally chalking up a person/people group as “them” we close the door to dialogue, understanding, compassion, caring, and love, while opening the door to exclusion, isolation, and violence. Think about it, the opposite of them is “us” … right? And we don’t un-friend “us”, we don’t let “us” suffer or go hungry, and we don’t kill “us” … right? Like I said, using the term “them” descriptively can be and is helpful. That said, NAMING a group or person “them” is a slippery slope that begins with “they’re different”, goes to “they’re wrong”, leads to “they’re bad”, continues to “they must be ended”, and finishes with atrocious acts like murder, genocide, terrorism, and ultimately the Holocaust.
NOW, I don’t think anyone reading this is likely to kill someone, join a terrorist group, or advocate the destruction of a people group, but hopefully you can see how one leads to the other, which is how ordinary, wonderful Germans ended up participating in the Holocaust. More to the point, I hope you can see how in our personal lives, and local/national conversations, naming someone “them” will have at least two terrible consequences for any of us: (1) Our lives, friendships, communities, and the world will become more fragmented, divided, isolated, and fearful (because generally speaking “us” aren’t scary, but “them certainly can be). (2) We will miss out on amazing life-lessons people different from us have to offer us.
This brings me back to two of my best friends in the world, Matt and Scott. While we have a lot of shared interests and similarities, we could not be more different. I mean, Matt is bald, I’m partially bald, and Scott has a gloriously full head of hair. What is more, Matt’s a Dolphins fan, I’m a Seahawks fan, and Scott cheers on the Broncos. 🙂
(Scott, me, and Matt at my recent wedding!)
Okay, playfulness aside. We do pretty much span a good chunk of the political and religious spectrum. While all three of us love Jesus and follow Christ, when it comes to theology and what we make of God, life, reality, and such, I’m definitely on the left, Scott’s in the middle’ish, and Matt’s more on the right. This, my friends, is a big deal and often a deal-breaker when it comes to friendships, because what we believe about ultimate reality, the Divine, life, and love is quite near and dear to most of us. It’s why the old adage says you shouldn’t talk about religion or politics at the dinner table, because when people disagree on these issues things will almost certainly get heated.
Here’s the thing, though, while Matt, Scott, and I disagree on some things, we keep engaging each other. We keep the conversation going. While sometimes we get a little passionate and defensive (or maybe just me :), largely we’re able to move beyond “agreeing to disagree” to “agreeing to listen, understand, and move toward each other. Even more importantly, even when we remain on opposite sides, we end with appreciation, understanding, and love.
This leads me to a central aspect about wisdom. According to the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom (which is personified as a woman) listens and learns. I believe Matt, Scott, and I do a pretty good job of following Wisdom’s advice by approaching each other with a mentality of curiosity and mutuality. To tell you what I mean by this, and hopefully help you in your journey of transformation, I’ll start vague and then give a specific example.
Each time we talk about a “sensitive” issue (note, Matt and Scott live in different cities and are my friends, so these are pretty much all conversations I have with them one-on-one) I feel like we approach each other with love and a mentality that seeks both to understand and draw closer to one another. To facilitate this, we ask each other good questions. I can’t fully speak for them, but I believe we usually each leave the conversation thinking a little differently about things. Matt, Scott, and I listen to each other so well and deeply that each of us is changed in the process.
Matt tries to read pretty much all my blogs (hi, Matt! … and Scott! :), so will talk to me about things he reads or doesn’t read in them. For instance, just a couple of weeks ago we were talking about how I see and experience God. As he asked questions and reflected back to me what he heard, he wondered: Do the things you emphasize in your writing have the possibility to lead people to mistake the Creator for the creation? Thus leading them away from God?
That conversation I just summed up with a question got me thinking. It helped and allowed me to better articulate what I’d always been meaning to say in my blogs and conversations. In short, I think we can experience God most readily and regularly via nature, relationships, love, yoga, and meditation. These are ALL signposts that point us to Someone bigger than and beyond them (i.e. the Divine). My point is, Matt’s curiosity and mutuality led me to reconsider my views and take a step or two toward him, and I find this happens regularly between Matt, Scott, and I. I think this is in large part because we consistently approach each other not with a mentality of “them” when it comes to topics we disagree on, but one of “us”.
Based on both the beautiful experiences I have with my dear friends and many other things, my dearest hope for us all is we adopt the mentality of agreeing to listen, understand, and move toward each other. I pray we continue to break down the walls that separate and divide “us” and “them”. In these politically, religiously, racially, and internationally divisive times, I think we need to embrace this now more than ever!
A fundamental teaching of both yoga and Christianity is there is NO “them”, there is ONLY “us.” There’s no separation between us as we are all one, AND we have differences, which need to be seen, heard, and learned from. THIS, I’m convinced is the path forward to a better future interpersonally, locally, nationally, and globally. I believe listening to and learning from people different from us (and vice-versa) will lead to more compassion, understanding, care, goodness, and love. It will literally be more of heaven coming to earth. What do you think?
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Grace and peace,