Maybe 12 million of them are jerks, but 161 million seems exaggerated, even for me.
A while back, I was reading Mark Nepo’s awesome book, The Endless Practice.
One line, in particular, has stuck with me. It was spoken by a woman struggling with family members with whom she disagreed on just about everything.
One day, she grew frustrated and blurted out:
“I want to talk about our experiences, not our beliefs!”
It strikes me that this is exactly what is missing from our cultural discourse.
Civility, kindness, thoughtfulness, reason – those qualities are missing as well, to be sure.
But we have completely stopped caring about why people are the way they are. We have stopped being curious about what makes them come to their conclusions.
You guys, it simply cannot be that this nation of 323 million people is half-full of assholes.
We are a culture obsessed with logical thinking and yet *this* is our best conclusion?
Imagine for a moment that you are sitting across from the person with which you most disagree with on one or more political issues. The one who really, really pushes your buttons.
Perhaps you and your sister disagree on abortion rights. Or your neighbor voted for someone you believe is the devil incarnate in the November election. Or your Uncle Harry can’t seem to understand why Black Lives Matter really does matter.
I’m guessing it’s not hard for you to imagine a tense conversation with this person in which your whole body tightens and you feel like screaming “ignorant pig!” at the top of your lungs.
(Been there, done that.)
I’m also guessing that during such a conversation, you and the other person would stick almost entirely to talking about your own beliefs/conclusions on the matter at hand: “Killing babies is wrong! Women die when there is no legal access to abortion care! All Lives Matter! Of course they do, but Black Lives Matter is about acknowledging oppression and disenfranchisement!” Etc. etc.
What is starkly missing from these conversations is any sort of curiosity or sharing about where these beliefs and conclusions come from.
And before you say Fox News or Rachel Maddow, let me stop you. I hear you, but the media can only feed us what we are hungry to consume.
Let’s imagine for a moment instead that you and this other person are talking to each other from your hearts, sharing stories and experiences that have led you to believe what you do.
“When I sit with the idea that some people were born into the experiences they were and I was born into my life, I feel guilty. So it’s easier to make that feeling want to go away.”
“Different races were talked about negatively in my family. I was not allowed to have black/white/Asian/etc. friends. It scared me. I still don’t know many people of other races because I feel as though somehow it is wrong.”
“I feel so angry about immigrants coming into this country illegally because I watched my dad struggle to get work. When he found work, life was good. When he didn’t, “they” were to blame and so were we.”
“I am outraged that this man stood there and talked about grabbing women by their pussies and then got elected. I’ve never told anyone that I was raped in college. It has brought out so much anger and my own grief at what we allow men to do to women in this country. I am more afraid than I have ever been.”
These are not easy stories to hear. But I’m guessing that, as you read them, your energy shifted a little bit. As I read them, I can imagine finding a bit more compassion and common ground with the human being sitting across from me. At the very least, my compulsion to slap them across the face disappears.
Here’s the deal: all conclusions and opinions come from experiences, whether we like to believe that or not. And we have ceased to honor this human fact as a means of healing.
This is not to suggest that racism should be tolerated, that we need to sit and listen to people spew hateful remarks, or that we do not need to engage in activism. It’s also not to say that anger is not useful in activism.
What I am suggesting is that we all know what it’s like to have anger spin out of control to a point where it really only hurts ourselves. At that point, putting down Facebook and breathing or going to a kickboxing class might be more a more productive way of dealing with it.
It’s also true that if we really want to change hearts and minds over time, we need to start being curious, as we are able, about why people believe what they do. We need to recognize that labeling people collectively as assholes is lazy and solves nothing.
And we need to own that we are wasting a WHOLE lot of collective energy engaging in arguments that go nowhere and only lead to more divide.
As a life coach, when I get on the phone with someone who tells me something I do not agree with, I do not immediately start screaming them down. I do, however, get really curious as to why an otherwise logical person might say something so entirely illogical and off the wall. Meeting my clients with love and asking neutral questions is the only thing that ever helps them find lasting change.
As far as I know, no human being anywhere has ever changed his behavior by being told he is a stupid moron.
Which is not to say that you can’t believe people are stupid morons.
It is to say, however, that the only way people really change is when they feel heard. When they have space to share their darkest, most shameful thoughts and work through them.
So what if we had a culture in which we created more space for this to happen?
In some small way today, can you try listening to someone talk without needing to interject? Can you be curious about why someone is behaving in a way you don’t approve of? Can you ask questions that speak to the person’s experiences instead of attacking their beliefs?
If you’re having a hard time with these things, start small: instead of judging the woman with the screaming kids at the grocery store, just say hi to me (ha!) or ask yourself, “I wonder why those kids are screaming? Have they had enough to eat? Is that woman caring for them by herself and needed to make a last-minute dinner run to the store? Is there anything I can do to help, even if it’s a friendly smile?”
If you’re still having a hard time with this, stick closer to home: find an area where you yourself are stuck and unable to change a behavior. Can you find a place of neutrality and really get curious about what is fueling your choice? Can you show compassion to yourself as you do?
It’s a heavy time right now. Most of us are just trying to figure out what to do and how to help heal the world. I’d love to hear about your own experiences and what’s working for you.
To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on how to navigate the heavy stuff, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.