Saturday, December 9, 2017

Looking for common ground

“We’ll never solve the problems we don’t talk about.”
 ~Justin Young

An odd couple / Cindy La Ferle

While clearing out the last of the summer planters and perennial beds, Doug found the tiny gnome (above) buried in a tangle of expired morning glories. Setting the little guy next to a garden angel on the window sill, he didn't realize that he'd gifted me with a photo opportunity -- and inspired a philosophical reverie.

As soon as I noticed the unlikely pair perched together, I thought about the courage it takes to find common ground with people who are different or don't share our point of view. And then I thought about how our nation has become so tribal and polarized on matters of politics and policy. I've been struggling, unsuccessfully, to come to terms with this awkward divide in my own social life.

With the exception of my most intimate friends, everyone seems to be avoiding the difficult conversations. 

The safest thing to do, of course, is to stick with non-controversial topics. My late father believed that discussing one's religion and politics in public was impolite. (Does impolite behavior even bother anyone now?) My father's post-Edwardian mindset still makes perfect sense if you're trying to maintain your professional boundaries with colleagues or coworkers, or if you prefer keeping casual friends or relatives at a well-guarded distance. 

But as any psychologist will tell you, the key to building close and enduring friendships is honest self-disclosure. If we conceal our problems, withhold our strong opinions, and never discuss our core values with each other, our relationships will likely remain superficial or transient. 

I'm equally guilty of practicing avoidance techniques. Over the past year, I've had in-depth political discussions only with my trusted tribe -- the friends with whom I feel safe and comfortable. Whenever I'm the least bit unsure of someone, I tend to soft-pedal my viewpoint or hide my beliefs out of fear of being judged or shamed.  

I know this is a painful topic. And I'm not promoting hostile or confrontational discussion. We get enough of that on our cable news stations.

But I am talking about opening our hearts and minds to each other on a much deeper level. As sociologist Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead: "Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." 

I enjoy few things more than engaging with fair-minded people who are willing to discuss the important stuff, the big issues. I want to know what my friends and family are thinking about current events. I want to understand the moral compass that guides them, how they study the issues, what they're reading and watching, how they make hard choices, and what truly matters to them politically as well as personally. Today, more than ever, the political is personal. I'm willing to listen -- and learn -- even when I'm not comfortable with what I'm hearing. 

Our country is in deep crisis. If we can't begin to talk about it, well, I guess I'll have to leave it at that. ~Cindy La Ferle

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  1. Beautifully written. Thank you so much for opening up your heart and sharing this thought provoking article.

  2. I enjoy your perspective, Cindy. We DO need to talk openly and broadly. And we also need to READ openly and broadly. And then talk about what we read. :-)

    1. Thanks for your comment, Claire. I always learn so much from you and admire how well-informed you are!

  3. Totally agree with your insightful blog, Cindy. This is why my daily media diet includes those outlets where I feel like an outsider. Just being aware of others' objections to my values and beliefs is important and a step in the right direction. Every day I try to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable as I dive into how others think. But it needs to work both ways. The good news is that more and more of my friends and acquaintances tell me "I've never been so politically aware." That's a good start....

    1. Theresa, what great points you make! I too try to read the opposing viewpoints in order to learn *why* some people disagree with things I believe in. It's hard to push beyond on our comfort zones, but there will be no real peace for any of us if we don't at least make an effort. I like what you said about people being more politically aware now. But being politically aware means being aware of all sides of an issue -- as you pointed out.

  4. Love the photo, love your words.

    1. Nancy, thank you -- I miss you!! Drop me an email and let me know how you are, please?