“How do you talk to someone you have fundamental disagreements with?”

A religious educator asked me this question this week as she sought my help in guiding youth about how to have conversations across divides. I felt stumped and flagged the email to get to later.

This is a burning question for many in the wake of the presidential election. Whether we encounter differences among people we work with, worship with, live with or share blood or friendships with, this question is on a lot of minds. Especially as Thanksgiving approaches, some of us wonder what the heck we’ll do if the subject of political differences comes up around the dinner table.

After closing that email, I thought about Compassionate Communication and Process Work and open honest questions and all the books I’ve read and the workshops I’ve attended and the awesome teachers I’ve had who have so much wisdom on these matters. And none of it made any difference. Until…

Until I realized that I was assuming the point of the conversation was to change the other person’s mind. I was stumped because I thought I was being asked, “How do you change the mind of someone you have fundamental disagreements with?” But that’s not the question. And I realized that my wisest teachers and the best practices I have learned are never about trying to change someone else.

In fact, I had forgotten the very agreements I ask groups to make as I facilitate them in discussions on thorny issues:

  • Show up.
  • Stay present.
  • Tell your truth.
  • Listen deeply to others’ truth.
  • Be open to your truth changing.
  • Stay unattached to the outcome.

That attachment thing! Arrrrggghhh!!

I remembered that if I can stop trying to change someone else, then maybe I can have a conversation with them that matters. A conversation that rests in the Truth that we belong to one another no matter what.

And just as I was about to write a response to the religious educator, I received an email with this subject line, “Resource for talking with people (family? holidays?) across political divides.” I opened the email and read:

This guide will help prepare you to speak about what is most important to you in ways that can be heard, and to hear others’ concerns and passions with new empathy and understanding — even if — especially if you continue to disagree.
The guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting another person — someone whose perspectives differ from your own — into a conversation in which:

    • You agree to set aside the desire to persuade the other and instead focus on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the hopes, fears and values that underlie them;
    • You agree to be curious and to avoid the pattern of attack and defend;
    • You choose to ask questions and move beyond stereotypes and assumptions.

Reaching Across the Red/Blue Divide by Essential Partners

I am so grateful that our friends at Essential Partners have created this gift for us at this time. All of us – yes, ALL of us – have gifts that can bless the world. The vision of Beloved Community requires us to support every person in identifying and delivering the gifts they have for connection and care. We can’t do that if we are not willing ourselves to creatively and care-fully extend ourselves toward authentic connection — even across fundamental differences.