Recently, a friend approached me wanting to have a difficult conversation. She stated her intention in the invitation: a video on Facebook created by religious leaders bothered her and she hoped we could talk about our different political views. She and I recently spent time together in a study I created called “Root to Bloom: A Compassionate Listening Experience” and I understood from her words that she trusted I would hear what the heart of the matter was for her in her distress over the video. Greatly humbled by her invitation and with enormous trepidation, I offered to host a lunch. So many questions went through my head: Should I study up on facts and figures on our current president? Should I bring out my bible and be ready to talk through how I interpret the scriptures? Should I take notes? Should I be quiet?
Instead of allowing all the questions to spin around in a never-ending spiral, I decided to pray and open myself to the experience of being in her presence. I felt the spirit guide me to listen and hear her heart. I also knew that if I sensed either she or I were not able to communicate well that I could politely ask that we end the conversation for now. I am never afraid to use this tool if I sense I can no longer listen or the other person is unable to listen. The day arrived and we sat down to lunch. We made small talk and shared a meal. When she was ready, she gently moved the conversation to the intention set for our time together. We began by watching some of the video on Facebook and then she offered me the opportunity to see the video through her eyes. What a new experience! When I first saw the video, I said a hearty, “Amen!” and then proceeded to share the video on Facebook. She saw the video and felt hurt.
We talked for a while sharing our journeys of faith and politics. I heard about her journey from growing up in a Democratic household through struggle and wrestling to now being a moderate Republican. She listened as I shared my journey from growing up in a wildly Republican family to creating a family where my husband and I give each other space and freedom to vote according to our own faith and values. We vote differently from each other and laugh about it. We vote the same and are surprised by how we arrive at our decisions in our own unique ways.
In the end, I asked my friend how she felt about our conversation and she said she felt good. Did we solve the country’s problems between Republicans and Democrats? No. Do we understand each other fully? No. Did we leave with more questions than answers? Probably. But we both survived to hopefully have the opportunity for another conversation.
Whew. This adulting stuff is difficult and filled with land mines. Sometimes I notice the explosive areas and move around them stealthily and other times I find myself walking straight for them.
Unaware, I walked straight into one in conversations with a family member. Family time is precious and I try to not engage in conversation when we are visiting family that we do not see very often and rarely speak with on the phone. Over the few days spent with family, I found myself confronted by one family member forcing the conversation to highly controversial topics involving politics. Knowing this person, I chose not to engage because we have the inability to listen to each other. So, I firmly and repeatedly asked to change the subject or to end the conversation. That worked for about two minutes, until the family member found a way to wind back to politics. Then, I would assert that we had ended that conversation previously and are not going back. Many conversations taking places over several days followed this pattern.
On the last day, I thought overall that I handled the situations like an adult: knowing my limits, speaking for myself, holding my boundaries. Then the Holy Shit hit the Fan. . . the fan at a beautiful restaurant out at a Lavender farm. Yes, Lavender. I should have asked for more lavender to cover myself, stuff into my mouth, rub on touch points to prevent what was about to happen.
The entire family drove out to a Lavender farm to celebrate my birthday. My birthday. We ate lavender hummus with vegetable, drank fruity drink with lavender and tasted goat cheese with lavender honey. The children played down by the creek while the adults enjoyed the dimly lit covered patio. I chose to sit by this family member to show my love and respect. I also did not want this family member to think that the previous conversations negatively impacted our relationship. The funniest thing is that I had these thoughts in choosing my place at the table. Sheesh.
As the wine flowed, conversation turned to politics. I held my boundaries and turned the conversation to another topic. Then, I found myself sucked into a part of the conversation (I am going to blame it on the wine, for now😊) and felt unheard and angry that I had participated. At this point my husband arrived and stoked the flame of the family member. No one was listening to each other. We each had mad faces AND I BLEW UP! BOOM! Unkind Words Flowed. To stop my words, I moved to the other end of the table and sulked because I let the family member break down my boundaries. I lost connection to my inner sanctuary. I chose to enter the conversation. I chose to BLOW UP.
Before leaving the Lavender farm, I put on my big girl panties and walked up to the family member and the one sitting at the same end of the table and I apologized. I apologized for acting like a 2 year old AND I offered that I had tried many times to steer the conversation in another direction. This does not give me the right to BLOW UP and I accept my contribution to the problem. I was brushed aside like it was no big deal which was untrue leaving me feeling unheard.
Difficult Conversations. Sometimes we get them right. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, we should not have the conversation with a person who cannot listen. Sometimes, we should open ourselves to new experiences and hear a person’s heart on the matter. All the time, we should stay connected to our inner sanctuary, our life-line to the divine, finding again and again that place of serenity where we know we are loved.