This week a friend of mine came to me, upset that her husband had called her a “bad” person. Why? Because, they are from two different political parties, and they didn’t agree on the topic at hand. My reaction? What has happened to the idea that we can disagree without humiliating the other person, vilifying them and calling them names? What about respect, common courtesy, and decency, when having a conversation? Have we lost the skill of communicating with other people?
The Boating Party – Photo by my friend, Brenda Leon
Beyond My Friend’s Conversation With Her Husband – Very Little About Politics
What concerns me is, that we, as a people, seem to have forgotten what a democratic society is. I am not a political animal. I am not going to take any political positions on my blog. There are blogs out there for that. I’m just bringing this up because of the context of my friend’s “argument” with her husband.
As a democratic society, we should be able to have respectful and informed conversations with one another. Isn’t that at the heart of who our nation is? Heated, passionate debate? I’m all for it. Verbal attacks, insults and hate speech? I’m offended by this. That is where I’ll end this, because this isn’t really about politics, it is about communication. How do we have good communication? What has happened to having a polite conversation?
Having A Good Conversation
Years ago, I worked on a Crisis Intervention Hotline and a Women’s Resource Hotline. To do that, I was taught the practice of active listening. Communicating requires listening to the other person, really listening. That means we aren’t thinking about what we are going to say next. Really listen. We were taught to ask questions to clarify what the other person was saying. Don’t make assumptions about what is being said. We were taught not to interrupt (good manners, by the way). We were taught to empathize with the other person. What? Yes, try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Try to understand how they feel and why. When we responded, we were taught to choose our words carefully, sometimes to echo back what has been said, just to make sure we truly understood the other person.
If you are in a face to face discussion, as my friend and her husband were, and as most real life conversations are, then body language and eye contact play an important role in how we communicate. Our facial expressions and our stance speak volumes to the other person. Words are only part of communicating with one another.
Sometimes we have to agree to disagree. We do not have to be right and the other person be wrong. How boring it would be if we all thought alike. Can you imagine what those conversations would be like? Pleasant? Sure. Boring? Definitely! At some point, we would get tired of the sameness. No original thoughts. No new ideas. No room for creativity, mistakes, or our differences. Think about the Truman Show, Pleasantiville or the creepy Stepford Wives (all movie references). Is that the kind of society and culture we want, where everything is exactly the same, black and white, right or wrong? Or do we want to allow one another our differences, and talk about them with curiosity, interest, and a willingness to truly listen?