Today, The Fulcrum is introducing a new biweekly advice column entitled, "Ask Joe."
In the divided political and social worlds we live in, tensions are often high in the workplace, in online conversations, at family gatherings, and even amongst friends.
Whether they rise to conflict, or fester beneath the surface, these tensions can impact you and everyone you know.
The "Ask Joe" column is dedicated to exploring the best ways to transform tensions and bridge divides. Our resident advice columnist, conflict resolution specialist, author, and Fierce Civility Project founder Joe Weston is here to answer your questions in order to resolve tension, polarization, or conflict.
To Ask Joe, please submit questions to: AskJoe@Fulcrum.us.
Let's kick things off with a question about trust in institutions:
I have friends who distrust the media, the government and corporations. But for some reason, they believe videos on YouTube or from other individuals and many conspiracy theories. These friends are super smart. Like, genius level IQ. And the depth of research they do far exceeds the time I have to examine and apply my own reasoning.
I have more trust in the media and government, less in corporations. So I believe more of what I hear in my day-to-day life, and spend a lot less time online. How can we discuss current affairs and such, without me feeling stupid and judging them as crazy?
Frustrated and Confused
Hello Frustrated and Confused,
I often hear this from people who are struggling with how to civilly exchange ideas with friends and loved ones. Though there are no quick fixes, certain approaches can help you stay in alignment with your values and, at the same time, find common ground.
Solutions offered by the Fierce Civility approach are simple and, albeit often times challenging to put into practice, they are effective. This pathway is designed to pivot you out of the rigidity that is created from spiraling in the realm of ideas, opinions, judgement, statistics and data, as well as pain, fear and trauma, and back to common-sense, heart-centered shifts in the dynamic.
So, you ask, "How can we discuss current affairs and such…?" Your wording already primes you for the solution. The first pivot is to avoid getting caught up in what you are discussing, and focus more on the how. If you feel that you can never win these conversations with intelligent friends, and that you end up feeling stupid and perceive them as crazy, then shift your focus. Ask yourself, which is more important to you: being right, or preserving the health and integrity of the relationship?
If the relationship is the priority, then come from your heart when speaking, and appeal to their hearts. Take care to help each other stay in your "best selves" and the heart connection that transcends current issues. You may realize something you have in common: You are both trying to navigate the current volatility and anxiety. You may also discover that, at a core level, you are both desiring to alleviate a sense of fear and fulfill a need for safety. From this shared space, recognition, healing and reconciliation can happen.
You may also want to consider how your judgment ("I'm stupid, they're crazy") is getting in the way of your authentic connection with this person whom you care about. Consider the Fierce Civility concept: My truth ≠ the truth. To illustrate: Think back to your eighth birthday. How much of that day can you remember (if at all)? If you asked those who were present on that day what they remember, would they recall the same facts as you? Who's right? Ultimately, the gift of this concept is that we get closest to the truth of any situation when we combine what each one of us remembers and how each of us sees it! Doing this requires that we listen and respond in an open, curious way.
Your situation is a classic example of the polarizing habit that we all have: the need to be right, and, therefore, deciding that others who see things differently must be wrong. When we do this, we forget that the average person has the capacity to perceive and retain only a portion of the data coming at them at any given time. This only becomes a problem when we hold the belief that the portion of what we perceive, believe or retain is the whole story.
What if you both have important information that, when combined, gives a fuller understanding of the situation? What questions would take you deeper into connection, trust, safety and a willingness to hear the other person's viewpoint? What if this combined knowledge could alleviate some of the anxiety and fear of our time for all of us, not exacerbate it?
Consider shifting the emphasis of your inquiry. Instead of focusing on why they are so trusting of social media, get more curious about what has caused them to develop a distrust of the news media, government and corporations. That's a far richer conversation that can lead to them feeling heard and understood; it may also lead you to consider new data. As well, do some of your own internal investigation: Why are you satisfied with what the news media and government tell you? Are you bearing in mind that, like all humans, they can only present a portion of the truth? This will result in an empowered vulnerability and humility that can rekindle the best in both you and your friends, and prevent further disconnection.
These pivots require courage, patience and compassion – for yourself and your friends. As we shift our focus away from the news media and online platforms, and back to one another, we rediscover that the power of the human spirit resides in our capacity to connect authentically, and to do the messy work of human relationships, no matter how smart, crazy or stupid we may be.
Trust your heart,