Honoring Those We Disagree With Without Giving Up Our Values

I’ve recently discovered the radio broadcast OnBeing. It’s one of those great broadcasts that makes you glad we support American Public Media and Public Radio.

Hosted and produced by Krista Tippett, it’s an absolutely amazing series of conversations about key issues we, as a society, face today.

So far my favorite has been the discussion Tippett had with Sister Frances Kissling, a pro-choice nun. Called Listening Beyond Life and Choice I was first intrigued by a nun who held the same views I do. But I came back because Kissling shared how she’s learning to have real conversations with people who are totally opposed to her view.

Here are a few quotes from the broadcast that will give you a taste:

  • Some people who see some benefit in learning why the other thinks the way they do. (This)  can lead to finding ways to honor their values without giving up mine.
  • Demonizing the other speaks against making progress with issues, and it’s not about finding common ground.
  • When you can acknowledge that which is good in the position of the person you disagree with.  That’s how civil debate is process. (Sidney Callahan)

These are thoughts worth having and contemplating. They are not easy, at least not for me. I’m only beginning to grope my way toward this sort of understanding.

Somewhere along the line I read something by Tich Natch Hahn that suggested one way to understand someone whose views you oppose is to try to explain their position to someone else, or at least think about how you would.

When I try, for example, this approach with say Rush Limbaugh, I find myself expressing the idea that he’s terribly afraid. A wisp of compassion can start there, and I also find I quickly move to an arrogance which is far from the point. Or maybe it isn’t, exactly. Before the exercise I had no compassion for the man and no idea how arrogant I felt when thinking about him. So much of the change I need starts internally.

This kind of listening goes, I feel, even beyond Nonviolent Communication, although that’s a darned good start. At least for me, this kind of listening requires first that I stop my own inner argument with what’s being said then a deep listening to what the other is saying. It’s not easy, but it may be the only way out of some of our deeper conflicts.

What do you think? Does this feel right? Or not? Let’s talk about it.

Love and blessings,

Anne Wayman: When Grandmother Speaks

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