In times of intense emotion and passion around potentially divisive issues, we are better served as individuals and as a community when we can suspend our judgment and criticism of one another and attempt, instead, to make sense of one another’s perspective.
I, as an individual, do not have to throw away what it is I feel, think, believe, or how I see something in order to listen to how another person feels, thinks, believes, or sees the same something. I believe that much of our unwillingness to listen mindfully to those with whose perspectives we disagree has to do with a fear that somehow someone is attempting to make us abandon our own. In response, we actively engage in defending because we feel as though we are under attack.
As I’ve written several times before, we are uniquely shaped by our varied contexts which include our backgrounds, particular experiences, and positionality. How we see and make sense of the world around us, then, is intrinsically connected to who we are. Many of us are going to see through different lenses. That is OK. What that tells us is that we have to consider that from inside our realities, our perspectives can feel like absolute truths. From where we stand, our perspective and way of thinking, feeling, believing, and knowing can appear to be the “right” way. Well, that would make everyone who is different from you wrong.
We become invested in being right, or in winning. We then approach conversations and discussions from this place and nothing gets resolved. Nothing productive happens to move us forward. Change is stifled and we resign ourselves to remain stuck in intensely negative and counterproductive debates that cheat us out of valuable opportunities to listen and to be heard.
If we are debating to discount one another rather than listening intently and mindfully to attempt to understand one another, our messages are lost. And, that loss is not an isolated one; it is a community loss, a world loss.
We stand to gain so much more when we can simultaneously hold onto both our own perspectives and those of others and move back and forth between the different realities. Respect is a powerfully disarming tool that is so rarely put to use especially in highly emotional climates. We can validate without agreeing. We can think that someone is wrong without debasing them as a person. When we realize that the enemy is not the person, but ignorance, learned hatred, some “ism,” lack of tolerance, and/or respect, we will unify to combat those, rather than each other.
We have to start paying attention. We cannot continue to be distracted by the details of events and stop there. If we do, we are not attending to the larger process, the hows. How is it that it made sense for a person to do this or that? How was it made OK? How do we play a role in it as a community? How do we facilitate change?
I recognize that this is not popular commentary and that I will undoubtedly hear from many of you. I welcome your perspective.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.