How to talk to each other when you don’t agree
The other night, I was in New York City where we saw a new play on Broadway called The Band’s Visit. It’s the story of an Egyptian band that plays a concert in a small Israeli village and what happens there. Without even a mention of politics, it shows us that being human can transcend our differences.
There are many groups working for peace in the Middle East irrespective of differences. It is heartening to see people who have a right to be angry and upset reaching out, across political, geographical, and ideological borders to find solutions. But we know it is not easy. The other day, a young American woman told me that she does not even speak with part of her family because they support politicians and ideologies that she considers stupid. Yet she is sad because these are people with whom she shares history and a bloodline, people she loves. I challenged her to go to them and start a dialog, without blame or judgment. Why do they feel the way they do? What has happened in their lives to bring them to this viewpoint?
Although she was willing to try, she asked how to get that conversation started. How do we get past the differences that bring on fear and hate and get back to love and understanding? In an earlier post, I discussed three ingredients of a meaningful conversation. These are
- Inquiry– Be genuinely curious.
- Implicit communication– Be direct and honest.
- Humor– Lighten up when possible.
These are still at the top of my list as components of the best deep conversations, but the place to start when you know you may not agree is with what you have in common rather than what you don’t. To do this, you might share memories with family members with whom you disagree, or find out what is important to your conversation partner by being inquisitive, or you might already know what you share in common and talk about it.
It is easy to get stuck in one story, the story of our differences, but by looking for other stories we can often find shared experiences that demonstrate that our polarized solutions are based in concerns about the same issues; this can open the way for solutions and they might be solutions that are far better than either side alone could find. Besides the wonderful music and excellent acting, this was the beauty of The Band’s Visit; the effect of sharing common ground was not contrived; it unfolded naturally and spoke of possibility rather than futility. Conversation was still tough at times, but the people in the story were able to get through it because they shared common interests and stories. In a powerful TED talk given by writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, she tells us that when we don’t hear more than one story about others “we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Her talk is about misperceptions that Westerners have about people in Africa, but it applies to any story where “one story about others” is all we know and all we use to form our opinions about them.
Invitation to comment or share your story: I do what I do because I believe that if we could all communicate more effectively, the world would be a better place. I would love to hear your story of finding common ground in spite of differences. Please share in the comments or send me your story via my contact form.
Photo credits: ID 42164247 © Leerodney Avison