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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Overcoming Divisive Times | By Bronwen Mayer Henry

What is next for a country so divided?

What is the way forward?

How do I (and should I?) stay connected to people who view the world so differently from me?


In these divisive times, many are pondering these questions. We might be prone to think the differences between ourselves and our neighbor (or friend, child, parent, spouse, colleague) are just too wide to cross. We find ourselves caught in catastrophic thinking that makes our neighbor an ‘other’ that we fear we will never understand. 

 



What is the way forward? How do we stand tall in our own beliefs and still stay connected in relationship with others who think differently?


This moment in time is an opportunity to step away from debating and step into understanding.

 

Are we willing to be vulnerable? Are we willing to look at our own biases, experiences and belief systems and consider how those perspectives have shaped our thinking?


How do we build authentic community? It is important to find spaces to explore and practice deep listening with people of different backgrounds, beliefs and viewpoints. 


Now may be the time we will burst the myth that we cannot talk about politics, religion, and race.

We can lean into new spaces for connection across diversity and in doing so, we learn about ourselves as we learn about others. 

 

 

 

Abby Stamelman Hocky, in an interview with Lucas Johnson of the On Being project and WHYY: "Being in relationship across religious traditions is the perfect example of having respect for one another and one another's views and difference and distinctiveness, while not trying to convert one another. " 

 

We are not in relationship if we are there to convert. If our hope is to change someone's mind--then we are debating. If our hope is to understand each other's viewpoints, solve problems together, and work together, that is an authentic relationship.


I think from my own life of a moment when I was in conversation with a friend, and she expressed defensiveness and outrage about the idea that she might be a racist (another acquaintance had suggested so much to her). How was I to respond to this moment? I took the tools from Passport Online to be curious about her story. I listened to her talk about her past experience of struggle and trauma in her family history. With time in the conversation she shifted from thinking of racism as a personal affront to more of a toxicity in the air we breathe.


These kinds of conversations are often fraught with self doubt--many of us would rather avoid these hard conversations than risk the missteps. Yet I see time and again people’s willingness to name the discomfort, enter the conversation, be humble and open to learning more, and as a result we are collectively and individually transformed.

 

 

These are some of the practices we explore in the Passport to Understanding ONLINE. We gather together a diverse group of folks (ethnicity, religion, age etc.) and we engage in thoughtful, intentional, meaningful dialogue to better understand one another with the intention to stand tall and stand with one another.

Passport to Understanding ONLINE is an opportunity for real time check ins as we navigate such a tumultuous time. Participants gain concrete tools and skills to help navigate difference.

 

Along the way is an opportunity to build new connections with people who view the world differently. We provide a structure and supportive community to venture out into new spaces and practice deep listening. Though it is a time of ideological divide and physical distances, there are many ready to step forward into more conversation and community to work together. If you feel drawn to this conversation, join us.

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