Are there some people that you just can’t talk to?
Like your views and theirs seem so polarized, you know you’ll never see eye to eye? Seems like there’s a lot of that going on in the world these days! Do you feel that?
Maybe it seems like the only safe thing to do to preserve your inner peace is to stay far away from people with different views. But what if you’re unexpectedly thrown into a situation with someone you have to talk to?
That happened to my student Gerry… Gerry recently moved and she wanted to make new friends. So she attended a “meet-up”of people interested in taking a long walk in a nearby regional park.
Three other women showed up. They seemed friendly and nice, and the four of them set off on the walk. It was a beautiful day, birds were singing. All was smooth… at least on the surface.
In this episode of Inner Peace for Challenging Times, I’ll share a way to find your way to calm when a person you’re interacting with has views that oppose your own.
Gerry found herself walking next to Ellen. They talked about their work, their families… and then the bombshell dropped. Somehow they got onto politics… and to Gerry’s shock — because Ellen seemed so nice — Ellen was a devoted supporter of a political figure that Gerry absolutely couldn’t stand!
What now? Gerry’s first impulse was to escape somehow, and her second impulse was to react strongly against the person Ellen had praised.
But then Gerry remembered something she learned from me: to Pause and inwardly acknowledge her own feelings. So that SHE could get a bigger perspective than her own immediate reactions.
In the Pause, Gerry knew one thing for sure. She did NOT want to get into a fight with this woman on this beautiful day. She inwardly acknowledged that much.
And then… Gerry realized she was actually curious. She really wanted to know what had happened to cause this nice person to have such different views from her own. So she said calmly, “I’m sure there’s a good reason in your personal experience to lead you to feel this way.”With such a calm, non-aggressive invitation, Ellen was happy to share her experience. She’d been in the military, and had gone to the VA to get treatment, and been refused. After this political figure took office, Ellen went back to the VA and this time was accepted. Ellen clearly felt the treatment she received had saved her life… and gave all the credit to the political figure.
Inwardly, Gerry could imagine a lot of other reasons why Ellen had now been accepted for treatment. But one thing was completely clear. And Gerry said so to Ellen.
With Gerry’s calm response, the tension in the situation was completely defused. They were able to go on and have a pleasant time for another two hours.
“The one thing I know is, you really can’t argue with people’s personal experience. You have every right to feel the way you do, based on your experience. And since I haven’t had that experience, I really have no business having an opinion about it one way or another. So let’s just go on from here.”
When Gerry told me this story later, she said, “It was like a miracle. And it was because of the pause! After I acknowledged my first reaction which I’m really glad I didn’t say, I realized I was genuinely curious. And everything went well after that.”You know, acceptance and curiosity go a long way to helping us get through difficult conversations!
Obviously there are times when differences need to be talked through. But not always.
Sometimes what fits the situation is to bypass our differences — no matter how polarized — and have a friendly social contact. And it’s in the Pause that you have some space to sense what you really want and what THIS situation needs.
So what were those steps again?
One: Pause. It only takes a moment!
Two: Silently acknowledge your own feelings.
Three: Notice what arises in you next… because it might be curiosity! And curiosity is a powerful force for positive connection with other people.
In fact, I’m curious right now… what will happen when YOU try this!
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So here’s to you… having a more peaceful life.