For the past several months, I have had the feeling that I was being asked (by God, by the Universe, by fate?) to learn more fully one of the lessons of my lifetime that has been hardest for me to fully accept. It has felt a bit like having a presence similar to that of a close friend, pushing me to embrace what I have come to see as important by way of experience.
I am sure the reasons are many, but I grew up with a keen discomfort of, and many avoidance tactics in place, for dealing with anger and disagreement. I always tried to short-circuit conflict before it happened; I placated and accommodated rather than confronting things head on. At the time I had the sense that while this avoidance of hard things felt like the “easy road”, I had a suspicion that ultimately it wasn’t. It is only in mid-life that I have come to see not only how right that inkling was, but that the layers of why are manifold.
When conflict emerges (and it inevitably does), it is usually pointing toward something important. Deep feeling and strong opinion are often rooted not only in a meaningful conviction, but in an experience that has encouraged someone to view the world as they do. If we never talk about the point of tension or disagreement, we will be missing out on learning more of who we each are. Moving toward the conflict (not if it is actually dangerous or abusive, of course), after a deep breath and a pause to try to assess my own motivations and feelings can lead to having some of the most substantive conversations.
At the moment, the world and its political leaders seem to be encouraging entrenchment. All one needs to do is figure out what you believe as an individual and then dig in. This has made it harder to buck the trend—to stay open to change and to engage difference. It is not about coming to unanimity of opinion or having us all agree; it is about allowing our differences to teach us. How can we really talk to one another if we avoid the hard stuff? How can we live in peace if the goal of such hard conversations is to convert the other person to seeing things my way?
It can be hard to listen in moments of disagreement. I may not want to hear what you have to say. I think it is also true that the combination of technology (social media in particular), and polarization has led us to become less savvy and skilled in the art of conversation. We are finding it harder than ever to connect; and that increases exponentially when we try to do so around a subject that really matters. It is also at precisely that moment that we need to muster the wherewithal to lean in, to stay at the table, and to find a place of understanding.
My wish and hope for our community, and by extension our global community, is that we will find ways to communicate across our places of difference. Undoubtedly, there is wisdom and growth and knowing that can be found where those differences intersect. It is also increasingly clear in this time of climate peril that our ability to survive as a species depends on our ability to find collective solutions. The vast and entrenched problems that we face as human beings will not be solved by one people in one place who all see the world the same way. In fact, I would argue that is part of what got us into this mess. May we find a way forward together, listening and working through our differences as we go.
Rev. Shana Lynngood is co-minister of First Unitarian Church of Victoria. She has lived and served in Victoria since 2010
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE