If we spend our time in person and online building barricades instead of bridges, nothing will improve and it will get worse. We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester
If your social media feed looks like mine, you are seeing lots of outrage and very little listening. People are quick to call out hypocrisy, real or perceived, and slow to self reflection. I am guilty of this, too. There’s something cathartic about screaming into the wind, finally saying what “needed to be said.” I do question how much utility there is in it, though. What value do we get, other than affirming what we already believed? I, for one, I’m tired of calling people out. I’d rather invite people in. What do I mean?
Calling out: Starts from the assumption that I am right and you are wrong. That I have something to teach you, and you need to learn it! It assumes value in chastening. I have certainly been guilty of this kind of smug superiority. When I engage in it, I feel a rush of satisfaction by venting or “getting it off my chest.” It’s even more affirming when those who see the world the way I do validate my call out. The trouble with calling out is it rarely leads me to challenge my assumptions, engage in understanding or broaden my scope of influence. Instead of persuading those who don’t see the world the way I do, I end up with a smaller network of like-minded believers. If left unchecked, we create echo chambers of self affirmation, and begin to convince ourselves of our rightness and exclude ourselves from others and their ideas. We divide the world into us vs. them. It breeds hostility, kills empathy and makes us less likely to learn new things. We stop challenging our assumptions and instead just call out yours.
Invite in: Says it is my responsibility to invite you into my trust circle. My primary objective is to invite you to tell me why you feel and think the way you do. My primary objective is not to persuade you, but to understand you. When that happens, we learn to trust each other. Then, we can invite others to understand where we are coming from. If they don’t want to see our perspective, we still have the benefit of understanding theirs. We also will learn new things and challenge our own beliefs. I have never met someone who was unwilling to help me truly understand them. The objective of inviting in can’t be to listen with loaded ears only waiting to pounce once we’ve graced them with our patience. Instead, the most benefit I’ve seen personally is when the objective truly is to learn and understand, not correct and refute.
How do we invite in?
First, adopt this phrase: I would say you would say. Whenever I say “I just don’t understand how they could think that,” I stop and realize that’s on me. I have the burden of understanding others. Here’s where “I would say you would say” comes in. When someone tells us we’ve got it right, and we do understand their thinking, then we can invite them to do the same exercise with us. Only when we understand each other can we have a substantive discussion about how we might see things differently. After practicing this for a while, people come to trust you because they know your first motive is to hear them not attack them.
Second, embrace the idea that it’s ok to agree to disagree. You are not personally responsible for bringing your cranky conservative uncle, your fanatical left wing sister-in-law or your apostate child around to your position.
Finally, always value the relationship over the topic. This does not mean you have to yield on your position, but you should be able to communicate your position and keep the relationship intact. A good friend taught me this lesson years ago, if you don’t have a relationship, you don’t have influence.
Okay, I know what some of you are thinking: “You don’t get it, this issue is different. We can’t just agree to disagree and pretend it’s okay. If the idea they endorse prevails, the damage may be irreversible. Their policies, character and morals will ensure irrevocable harm. To not denounce them and their followers is, in essence, complicit to the harm.”
Let’s assume this is true, what advantage will be gained by calling them out instead of inviting them in? What good will come by alienating, ostracizing, avoiding, belittling or shaming them? Do you think that will show them the perceived error of their ways? That your chastening will cause them to conform to your view? Is that how you respond when others call you out?
If we spend our time in person and online building barricades instead of bridges, nothing will improve and it will get worse. We cannot afford as citizens, families, friends, co-workers and fellow travelers to let the cancer of division fester. We must be bold enough, and meek enough to have the hard conversations, to abandon calling out and embrace inviting in. If not you, who? If not now, when?