“What we have before us are some breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.”
—John W. Gardner
There are days, when I look around at the world we live in and I wonder if and how we will make it through the multiple crises that we seem to be living in. It all seems intractable.
Then, I remember. I can relax, because nothing is under control. To be honest, there was a time in my life when I would have panicked at the very idea that nothing is under control. Today however, I am deeply grateful. If all of what we are seeing and experiencing was happening because everything was “under control”, we would be in a far worse place. The mere fact that nothing is ever “under control” is a powerful gift of living possibility!
I also have seen more clearly how very differently we all see the current milieu. I have been watching the posts of many friends on Facebook, and watching how many people in the various circles in my world appear to be swirling around, or sometimes even flailing about, over some current topics. It is quite apparent that many are seeking to change the minds of others – which in itself is a fruitless effort and only misuses vital energy.
What is also true is that we all have inherent or implicit bias. What makes inherent bias so dangerous is…it is unconscious. When we are not aware of our biases and don’t slow down to consider their origins, we continue to project, attempt to “change minds” and end up creating more distance – which is generally not our intention! It is in being completely unconscious to our most basic biases and instincts that we create gaps in relationships of all kinds. The unintended consequences are that we can find ourselves alone, even in a group of like-minded people.
Leading our lives includes being completely responsible for ourselves – our biases, our behavior, and growing up…as hard as it is. It is the work of our lives!
I’m a believer in the power of asking questions. However, even in asking questions, we are either aware or unconscious when we inquire. For example, consider questions like this:
“Why do you believe….?”
“Don’t you see that…?”
This even feels like an inquisition! I’m being asked WHY about my beliefs, and being shamed a bit about my belief with the second question. Is there a different way to ask questions like these? Well, yes, if you are really interested in learning something that may be very different from your own perspectives on the same topic. For example, different questions might look like this:
“Would you mind telling me a bit more about what you believe and how you came to believe that?”
A follow up question might include a request to expand upon a point or two…and that would certainly indicate that the person asking the question was clearly and intently listening, and was interested!
And the outcome? The other person feels seen and heard. And quite possibly, the relationship begins to expand – to open; and the person asking the question may begin to learn something that he/she had not even considered in the past. Can you imagine what could be different in our world, if communication was intentional, and people really cared enough to listen and learn, rather than talking all of the time? If you are a participant in social media, I invite you to read through your newsfeed or whatever you see in a platform you participate in, and attempt to view it all as an objective observer. I wonder what you would see. Would you recognize your triggers? Would you feel you have to react or correct someone else? Listening or observing from a position of defense is far different than listening or observing from a place of openness, and honest curiosity.
Be a good listener. Your ears will never get you in trouble.
Intractable = hard to control. Relax…nothing is under control.
Clearly our inherent biases keep us from hearing or seeing others. This is part of being human. Even when we do our work, we practice observing and asking questions of ourselves, we are still carrying around biases. It is our job…and ours alone…to recognize and question ourselves about our biases as we notice an internal (or even an external) reaction to something/anything. Most questions about beliefs that another appears to have are best asked of ourselves first. If we understand the origins of our beliefs, we are more likely to be curious about another’s beliefs. If we do not examine our own, then we seek, accusingly, to know what the other person’s positions are and why.
My intention here is NOT to minimize the very serious societal issues that we are facing in the world in 2020. In fact we are facing many very serious issues with devastating consequences every single moment of every single day. I wish for us to awaken to the ways we might attempt to make it better. Brow beating those we perceive as being part of the problem will not add anything useful to the process of healing and creating anew what must be addressed. Taking the time to listen and to consider our own inherent biases will allow us to know that others have biases just as we do. They may or many not be different. We will never know if we don’t even care to inquire. We have two ears, two eyes and one mouth for a reason.
If you make listening and observation your occupation, you will gain much more than you can by talk.