If you watch the news, follow social media, read newspapers or magazines, you might think that there is very little that we see eye-to-eye on. And even though we know that media tends to focus on the sensational and extreme, it’s difficult to believe that the majority of people agree on most things.
My impression when observing folks who passionately disagree about a specific subject or issue, is that we get into trouble when we search for common ground instead of a simple shared understanding of what it is that the other believes. Hearing appears to stop when the listener feels that the speaker is trying to ‘convince’ them of something, or change what they think or how they feel.
What would happen if, when we are having conversations across the divide, we agreed to approach others with enthusiasm for difference instead and refused to see them as ‘evil’? Could we have the courage to be vulnerable in front of those with whom we passionately disagree in order to achieve the goal of gaining a better understanding of why the other believes what they do? Can we honor some of their values without giving up ours?
Maybe the next time you have a conversation that is prone to be difficult – due to the nature of the issue or passion associated with it – you can try to approach it with a desire to provide space, through your listening, for the most useful dialogue to occur. I believe this needs to start with us, on the ground level, because I think our ‘leaders’ need us as role models.