Up early on Sunday, coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other, we sat at the kitchen table, reading. It’s our regular routine, though this Sunday mom was in town, joining us in our weekend ritual.
Given the chaos of the last year—the presidential election, the inauguration, the myriad of marches–it’s clear that we’re collectively unsettled and in a mood of uncertainty about our future.
And this Sunday’s mood was no different as we spread out the newspaper, reading the emotionally charged headlines, lamenting the underlying current of change at hand.
Speaking truth – what is it?
To speak one’s opinion, one’s truth, is our human inclination, a way of making sense of the world.
While we occasionally quibble and question, trying to discern the big ‘T’ truths of life, it’s the little ‘t’ truths that shape our daily lives. And, because we hold different ‘truths’ as Truth, conflict inevitably arises.
Polarized, left and right, conservative and liberal, we’ve quit listening, quit being curious, and dare we admit, quit learning.
One significant result is that real conversations are on the decline. We’re either too politically correct (restrained), overly reactive (stirred up to frothing with anger), or we hide behind our social media feed, reinforcing the thought bubbles we live in.
It might feel safer, in hiding. Change and uncertainty are scary.
What Can We Do?
Take stock of our conversational skills. Honestly assess our own capacity to listen, and speak from the heart.
With divisiveness and fear stirred up, our collective stress levels are high while our need to vent and voice has exploded, everyone competing for air time.
We compete for attention, turning the conversation to ourselves and our opinions rather than listening to the other person. Some of us dominate, hogging air space, while others argue and debate. The impact has proven costly, and our true conversational skills revealed.
Refilling coffee, I was reminded of the story of Two Wolves, a wise instruction on how to work with our thoughts and feelings.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is bad – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one I feed.”
Which wolf and attitude do you choose to feed as conversations unfold?
What if the purpose, when we converse, wasn’t simply to win, but to truly be present to the human being right in front of us? To convey our respect and care for one another as human beings, despite our differences, and maybe learn something about one another’s concerns?
While the three of us around the table that morning tend to hold similar views, it’s not accurate to say that we agree. In fact, what struck me on this Sunday morning was that we delved deeper into our differences as the conversation unfolded.
Learning to Converse—What to Feed & How
Ask good questions — As the conversation unfolded around the table, we began to ask each other questions, like, ‘how did you come to think this?’ and ‘what strikes you about the author’s opinion?’
Share air — We essentially took turns, listening, and then speaking our particular point of view. In doing so, our own views morphed, clarified by the conversation. If you find you’re talking too much, listening too little, adjust to a 5 to 1 listening to talking ratio. Conversely, speak up, even if tenuous at first. It’ll add to conversational flow.
Drop the need to be right — It’s human to want to be right. On that Sunday, I found myself holding to a point of view that, well, didn’t really matter in the long run. Once I realized that, I dropped it despite wanting to argue it.
If the purpose of conversation is to learn, simply tell your experience or opinion, then drop it. No convincing or persuading required. It’s not useful. Plus, you open up conversational space for more listening.
Drop any tendency to correct – My husband and I can get caught up in correcting one another—as we did on Sunday. Mom caught us, pointed it out, and we shifted, laughing at this obvious pattern we share.
Centered conversations involve clarifying, deep listening and dialogue, not correction. Instead, they align around our common human concerns.
Manage mood – At one point in our far-ranging conversation, our emotions heated up; you’d have heard it, too, in our tone and tenor had you been at the table.
Take a moment to remember the larger goal, and choose to shift your mood from agitated to open. Of course, if you’re like me, you’ll likely have to practice this often; it’s worth it.
Be open to laughter — Improvising and pointing out the absurd, or even simply acknowledging it, is to not take yourself too seriously, just seriously enough. It’s an extension of generosity that pays off.
Coffee pot drained, we continued to both listen and interrupt each other with questions, our curiosities sparked. As explanations unfolded, conversation deepened. We had discovered a depth of understanding that, perhaps, we hadn’t experienced before. And, we enjoyed ourselves in our Sunday conversation.