An anticipated conversation may be ostensibly civil, yet emotionally explosive with a potential to derail reason and undermine feeling safe. Consider instead a type of guided conversation that has a container for challenging fear, anger, and grievance into being heard, listening, and acknowledging others. Starting with really listening can move the dialogue toward a real conversation built on reasoning.
After the Charlottesville demonstrations in 2017, I watched the video of author BrenÃ© Brown on 8/29/17 about owning a collective American story. I have added to her insights the idea of listening directly to others who are stuck in stories of entitlement, cynicism, and white supremacy -- because they are shouting over all other conversation and canâ€™t stop until they get it all out and shift the story. Brown says that our culture becomes dangerous when we tell their story for them. Of course I too have disgusts, fears of the breakdown of democracy, and rants of my own, so weâ€™re all stuck in this together.
Brownâ€™s books tell us how to make space for vulnerability in positive emotional support. I appreciate her allowing negative and positive emotions. Our political culture isnâ€™t really engaging each other in reason; the ascendance of our negative emotions of anger and fear are remarkable. So letâ€™s start there as too many people canâ€™t get beyond accusations of â€œFake News!â€�
Brown uses the word â€œstoryâ€�. Starting with runaway emotions, story gives us a path without triggering disrespect for the teller or the listeners. Itâ€™s an ancient form also known as mythology -- a good stand-in for â€œFake Newsâ€�, and for what â€œhas never happened but is happening all the time.â€� (--Joseph Campbell)
Recently there have been many books on story in many fields. But my most remarkable read was a basic Psychology textbook teaching the basic neurology of human perception as based in story. Humans do not collect sensory impressions as bits of data to interpret consciously; we use a hard-wired filter for possible meanings based on already presumed context; the process operates in milliseconds. We try one interpretation in our collection to see if further data confirms it and if not, try another one within milliseconds. These interpretations are much faster than conscious analysis, and are not bytes but stories that supply the meaning of our observations as a whole. Reason is what we do at a slower pace using conscious thought to connect our observation stories and solve any cognitive dissonance. This process is even more critical in observing other people.
A Face-to-Face Process for PolarizationSo letâ€™s gather for Fake News, conspiracies, and attribution of blame. Admit everyone has some. The way through is to embrace the fiction. Hereâ€™s how to both allow and finish the rants:
Recognize it is not about facts, but rather a process of grappling with and grasping for intensely personal meanings that are carried with intense emotions; anger, fear, and grief are blinding. Allow people to take responsibility for their own hot buttons while not letting them put anything on you. Never feel that you are taking them on.
Listen to the story, the whole story played out to a natural ending, when the teller is left to face their illusion of attack in the fearful or angry narrative. The speakerâ€™s sense of being heard and acknowledged results more from facing the end of their telling than from any response received. Yet it will help possible future dialog to listen for the meaning of the story to them, and for their needs and values in a positive sense. People have to disillusion themselves; an outsider canâ€™t prove it to them. They have to get to the end of the rant, feel emptied, and ready to explore new ground.
You can deal with any divisiveness if you can get tellers and listeners to agree to these ground rules:
* Essentially, modify your story to make it not personal or aimed at anyone present or loved by anyone present. Try valuing its courageousness and tell it as a drama with fictional characters. It is just as satisfying to your brain to have your story heard when you donâ€™t try to make it factual. Like a movie, it will still have its meaning.
* People who fear the trauma of put-downs may need us to build up containment first. Ask â€œWhat do you need to feel safe?â€� Establish mutual rules of whatâ€™s and not OK, although a leader not afraid of emotions, though afraid of attack, may need to set the boundary that no one is responsible for anotherâ€™s feelings, only being accountable for behavior respecting othersâ€™ autonomy and safety. We must find a safe environment to overcome trauma and be vulnerable. Let people use their own language, and hold them accountable to the container rules.
* Tell in words and sound effects only, stop yourself from acting out; saying it with feeling will be just as effective.
* Prepare to listen to the end of a long story. However, set the expectation that stories can be more dramatic, more emotional (in words only, mind you), and thus get it finished sooner so we can get another story told.
* You are not responsible for a storytellerâ€™s viewpoint or feelings, only they are, so donâ€™t take it inside. Do step out of the action, and hear it like a movie. Know that you are in you own story at all times, and can hear another story at the same time.
* When a story ends, just wait. Donâ€™t preach, suggest anything, or make overtures. Only the teller directs their own next step or change.
* Everyone will have a story-telling turn, but only after others are completely finished. Itâ€™s an exchange of simply being heard, and heard to the end.
Outcomes:Only if you own your story, you can own and choose the ending. When the storyteller feels acknowledged and complete, they may want a different ending to their story, want to ameliorate it and start a new story, are ready to hear your story, or want to make a new story with you.
With practice really hearing someone and getting yourself heard, youâ€™ll notice the difference between the feelings of someone ready for new conclusions, inspiration, and common ground, and someone who hasnâ€™t had their stories heard and felt ownership of the outcome. (And there still will be ranters impervious to acknowledgement because they really are stuck in past stories, interactions, trauma, mental illness, though you will be surprised by how much most people can clear if they tell it all.)
So when a storyteller feels acknowledged and complete, the questions for inhabiting the newly created â€œcommon groundâ€�, for teller and listeners:
- â€œWhat do you want to make happen?â€�
- â€œWhat do you want to offer to these others?â€�
- â€œWhat you you want to do together?â€�
Agreeing on facts becomes important only after weâ€™ve understood othersâ€™ meaning and values, weâ€™re open to the new perspectives of other stories, and weâ€™re jointly investing in creating some goal together. First, youâ€™ve got to be in a common story -- like a myth or a patriotic story or just open common ground to explore -- as a shared context for facts and reason.
Jeanne Bear studied in the first Human Capacities Training Program. She has led workshops in emotional development. She writes about paradigm change and the neuroscience of human perspective, perception, narrative, and emotions.
The Midterm 2018 Blue Wave proved that the pathology is waning. Unfortunately, the defeat of Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, and Beto O'Rourke makes is clear it is not occurring fast enough.
Stacey Abrams did not concede the Georgia governors race nor should she have. She simply declared that there is no remedy in current law to right the wrong of the systematic disenfranchisements of thousands of Georgians and as such Brian Kemp will ascend to the Georgia governorship.
Stacey Abrams did not concede the Georgia governors race nor should she have. "Let's be clear: This is not a speech of concession," Abrams said. "Because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that. ... In the coming days, we will be filing a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions." Abrams simply declared that there is no remedy in current law to right the wrong of the systematic disenfranchisements of thousands of Georgians and as such Brian Kemp will ascend to the Georgia governorship.
Many do not like to use the word evil because it denotes the basement of immorality. It does require a certain kind of evil to manufacture a win in a representative democracy by denying the votes of people who would deny you a vote specifically because the policies you support are in fact evil to many. Unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of the Republican Party Establishment.
Real Conservatives left the #GOP. The #RepublicanParty Establishment is in it for one class of people. They use race and culture to fool a large percentage of white people claiming that they are in the game for them. But when that white sleeping giant wakes up and learns in their core that race is a social construct meant to do exactly what today's Republicans are doing with it, -- dividing by illogical lines given that while Republicans support the extractors most of us are the extracted-from irrespective of race, religion, or creed. -- it will be a bloodbath. The mind can only be enslaved for so long. But then again "long" is relative.
Progressives, we have a lot of work to do. And white Progressives will need to be much bolder when "in insular communities." The discomfort you will feel, I promise, pales in comparison to what "the other" have and continue to endure. And to "the other" who have placated the current Republican Party Establishment by becoming pawns that are used to give cover to the current GOP pathology as opposed to using their access to expose, your complicity prolongs this American cancer. You are no less evil.
I hold my rancor for the current leaders of the Right who used tested psychological methods to alter the state of reality of many. The reason I continue to engage folk is that I understand as humans we are all fallible and given the right conditions will fall for anything. Some people will require discernable personal harm by the party before the reality sinks. I hope that for the sake of the country, enough will have enough of an empathetic and pliable gene to open themselves to their better angels.
â€œMake America Kind Againâ€� was the plea.
The campaign to be â€œgreat againâ€� evidently resonated with enough voters in enough states that the Electoral College was tipped against the popular vote. So now we have what we have here in America â€“ I would say: neither greatness nor goodness.
A Pandoraâ€™s Box of ugliness has been opened in our society. Of course people have always been unkind to one another but just a few years ago, regular Americans seemed to have better manners. There was a common civility that helped us navigate our personal opinions so that â€“ at least in public â€“ we mostly treated acquaintances and strangers with a basic politeness.
That began to fall apart with accusations of â€œpolitical correctnessâ€� so that saying things in such a way as not to offend others was perceived as a censure on MY ability to say whatever I wanted. MY rights were more important than any one elseâ€™s feelings. Circumspection and kindness in our conversation were ridiculed as a weakness.
During the eight years that America had its first mixed race president, unkindness accelerated. Criticisms of any presidentâ€™s politics and policies are nothing new, but somehow too many Americans grew more comfortable believing and repeating rampant ugly untruths about this particular first family. Americaâ€™s shadow side of racism came boldly into the light.
Now, with our current presidentâ€™s life long habit of disrespect and derision, even more Americans have lost a habit of common public civility. My blogger friend, Egberto Willies, records incidents of ugliness he ascribes to the â€œTrump Effect.â€� The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes and acts of ugliness; their HateWatch project documents an alarming increase since 2016.
When President Obama spoke at the 100th anniversary celebration of Nelson Mandelaâ€™s birth, he alluded to the ugliness that all too often marks and mars our human nature. But this stain doesnâ€™t have to ruin us. Obama said of Mr. Mandela:
Madiba reminds us that: â€œNo one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart.â€�
I believe this. I believe human nature bends towards love more than it does toward hate. So how do we help each other re-learn how to love? How do we unlearn hate? How do we reclaim kindness?
Baby steps, I will say. Small but courageous acts of goodness. Living as examples of kindness in the face of public ugliness.
I think there are many of our fellow Americans who truly want to make America both great and good, and I believe these two values are completely compatible. Actually, they are more than compatible; these values must go hand in hand.
These baby steps, this endurance and persistence in the face of our current climate of unkindness must become more and more outspoken if we are to make America both great and good. Those of us who share this vision realize that might does NOT make right. And we recognize that this vision of great goodness has adversaries both on the Right and on the Left. That is why we must be diligent to call out corrosive, abusive unkindness wherever we see it.
power actually grew during the years â€“ and the power of his jailers diminished, because he knew that if you stick to whatâ€™s true, if you know whatâ€™s in your heart, and youâ€™re willing to sacrifice for it, even in the face of overwhelming odds, that it might not happen tomorrow, it might not happen in the next week, it might not even happen in your lifetime. Things may go backwards for a while, but ultimately, right makes might, not the other way aroundâ€¦
â€œIt might not happen next week â€¦ or even in our lifetimeâ€¦â€�
Yes, things are going backwards right now but the pendulum will swing again. The arc of the universe will keep bending towards justice. The light will keep shining in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.
I believe this. If America would be great, then we must commit to being good. As Mr. Obama points us:
Read President Obamaâ€™s 2018 speechÂ here.
Watch itÂ here. (1 hour 24 minutes)
It is natural for people with common interests/values to associate and congregate together. In todayâ€™s society it is easy for many people to avoid others with differing opinions to interact and only briefly engage with them through social media. Each year in late fall and early winter those paradigms may clash while attending social or family gatherings. Perhaps too often discussions become heated which may damage relationships for months or years.
However, there are ways to avoid and limit the opportunities for charged emotional explosions. Some people come by the talent naturally, but for many this requires learned skills developed through directed effort and practice. Learning to use some or all of the skills may make holiday events more pleasant. They may also extend beyond the holidays and assist by supporting civility in daily life.
I have used a version of this skill set professionally to aid the meshing of corporate cultures which resulted from mergers and acquisitions. In another arena, many couples/marriage counseling sights have lists of rules for a fair loving fight. These guidelines are also useful within our extended families and social settings.
1. Finding Common Ground
It is easier to discuss issues over which you disagree after first finding a point or points of agreement. Ask questions, look for areas where you can agree and build from there. One example is illegal immigration. You may not agree on how to get there, but you may find that you agree on the fact that the country needs to do a better job of reacting to illegal immigration.
2. Losing an Argument with Grace
In the section â€œYou Can't Win an Argument," of Dale Carnegie's book How to Win Friends and Influence People he says, â€œA man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. " Understand that no matter how strongly you feel about something, you may be unable to convince others to agree with you. Some individuals are simply not open to alternative information or the prospect of changing their mind. If you maintain a civil conversation it may sustain the possibility of future discussions. This is really not a tug-of-war, but even if you know that you are not arguing or fighting for position, it is okay if the other person feels like they won.
3. Looking Beneath the Surface
As you listen, look for clues that may reveal someoneâ€™s personal experience or history with an issue. They may have emotions that run much deeper than a rational or logical examination of the facts. Perhaps they have a need to feel secure or respected. Dealing with that type of need is very different than arguing over truth.
4. Being the Adult in a Conversation
If a situation escalates towards unpleasantness, be the person to call a timeout and walk away.
5. Checking Sources
Verify your sources of information before you attend an event. Does the information come from somewhere known for a particular bias? Is if available from more than one source? Do the details come from a resource acting as a front for a particular group? Can you verify the veracity of the information?
6. Knowing the Details
This is also about doing some homework ahead of time. Go beyond headlines and sound bites. Drill down to the source of the information rather than just quoting a media outlet. Try to understand an issue from more than one perspective before going into the conversation or during by asking questions. â€œWhat would that look like?â€ â€œHow would you implement that?â€ Stories may change when you get into the minutia. It can be embarrassing when the other person has more information about your point than you do.
7. Avoiding Demeaning and Derogatory Nicknames/Terms
There are two levels to this skill. The first is that understanding the preferred vocabulary of another person is an easy way to establish rapport. As an example, a fundamentalist Christian likely prefers being called Evangelical instead of fundamentalist. Calling a Persian or Shikh an Arab will shut you down before you get started. The second part of this could be the most important skill to develop in our current social climate. Donâ€™t use derogatory terms or nicknames; they instantly imply a number of characteristics that are associated with the chosen word. Once that happens, there is no discussion; the walls go up. We need to practice talking about people individually or in groups as human beings.
8. Avoiding ClichÃ©s
Thanks in a large part to social media we spend a lot of time â€œpreaching to the choirâ€. Yes, that is a clichÃ©. Would it be more useful to say that we often talk only to people with whom we agree? Using prefabricated terms and phrases will nearly always elicit a prepackaged response. If we find fresh ways of saying old things we increase the chances of getting new responses.
9. Breathing and Smiling Before Responding
Based on your facial expression, people will read your response before you say a word. By actively taking a breath before you respond and then smiling you can put the other person more at ease.
10. Avoiding Defensive Body Language
This goes along with smiling, but on a much larger scale. Let your body be open, avoid crossing arms or legs. Notice if you are feeling tense and make an effort to relax. An extra breath or two can be helpful. If you have refreshments, take a drink while you consider a response.
11. Showing Respect Even When You Disagree
Too often we dismiss opposing ideas as the opinions of stupid or at best misinformed people. That could be true, but more than likely the other people are just as informed and intelligent as we are, but perhaps in a different manner. Different perspectives make this country strong, not weak. Respect the other personâ€™s point of view. Try to place yourself in their shoes and view it from their eyes. You may find that they, too, have some valid points.
12. Ask Others to Clarify and/or Explain Why Something is Important, or How They Would Do It Differently.
This is a tool for diffusing hot situations. Another Dale Carnegie concept is that it is more important to be interested than interesting. Let people tell you why they feel a certain way and not just what they think. I.e. â€œHow does this affect you directly?â€, â€œHow does immigration affect your business? and â€œWhat needs to change for you to be able to stay afloat?â€
13. Never Making Issues Personal or About a Person/Personality
This can be a tough one and may require much practice. Always steer the conversation back to facts. No one will gain anything if you bring up someoneâ€™s past or previous encounters. This also means not discussing personalities that might influence an opinion.
14. Active Listening
There are many books, articles and courses readily available to improve listening skills.
Some resources for more information:
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? by Alan Alda 10 Steps To Effective Listening - Forbes 5 Ways To Improve Your Listening Skills - Fast Company Learn About Active Listening Skills With Examples - The Balance Careers 5 ways to listen better - Julian Treasure TED TalkIn addition to using some of those sources to fluff up your skills, consider developing a mindfulness meditation practice. Listening often fails when a person is composing a response in their mind rather than absorbing what the other person is saying. Meditation can assist focusing on the moment instead of an internal dialogue.
Chrystine Julian is a former Corporate Director of Communications. She is currently a workshop leader, spiritual teacher, writer, poet, artist and stand-up comic. She lives in the Inland Empire region of Southern California.
SO â€¦ your participation in these efforts is crucial. Your financial support is the lifeblood of this non-profit grassroots movement. We literally cannot do this without you!
Here is our request to you:
- Become a new member of Coffee Party USA with a single donation. $60 for one year multiplies the important efforts of this all-volunteer-powered movement. Sign up to be an Annual SupporterÂ here.Â
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Visit our (NEW, UPDATED!) website to learn more about the ways Coffee Party USA is working for YOU and for America.
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Vince wrote this blog for National Coffee Day and challenged his Crazy Eddie readers to get involved. He has a real passion for the environment, good jokes, coffee and Coffee Party USA.
Whether getting one to go or lingering over a second cup, on September 29 be sure to observe National Coffee Day!
In addition to my Crazy Eddie readers celebrating by having a cup or two of their favorite coffee, some of which can be had at a discount or even free on National Coffee Day, they can match my $10 donation!
- Your donations have helped support our new Coffee Party USA website.
- Your support helped people find a Coffee Party Voter Buddy, helped people register and get to the polls with our partners, TurboVote and National Voter Registration Day during our most recent election year.
- You have also helped us start and support more Local Coffee Party Communities and you can still help in that effort.
If that's not enough, my readers can become a member
Or volunteer with the national organization.
Coffee Party USA needs people to help with all the projects listed above (and then some) as we plan on doing even more that empowers and connects communities to reclaim our government for the people in the future.
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