If I’m a non-American I’m certainly noticing a lot of division within the American people. Close mindedness is at a premium where fellow American citizens are unable to hold a simple political, religious, or moral conversation for risk of offending the other party, or much worse. How is this possible? You and I have come a long way and are actually moving towards an egalitarian society and, on much larger scale, global value system. I want to believe the latter much more than the former, but if you and I are honest with what state of dysfunction the United States is currently in, we must acknowledge the former with utmost clarity. At this point our fellow citizens will not change based on an argument; people are won by non-violent conversations, initiated by you and I, geared towards a desire to better understand who they are. Here are a few ways we can be more open minded conversationalists motivated by greater peace and understanding.
- Listen. Be active in your listening even if you may not agree with them. Tell them you hear what they are saying and be ready to summarize the main points of their side of the discussion. Nod when they say something key; afford them the same open body language you would want for yourself.
- Determine what your hardline values are. What are you willing to defend until your last breath? This creates less room for offense to take place and, mentally, we can become more open towards the issues we determine to be less “hardline”. It’s an extreme precaution to take, but pregaming our beliefs allow us to further define what our “no budge” issues are and, surprisingly, helps us realize we should be a lot more open about. If you have several dozen “no budge” issues it’s time to take a look in the mirror and ask in what ways you can be more open. Period.
- Generate common ground and resolute compromise, not tolerance. Bill Hybels of the long standing Willow Creek church claims tolerance is for cowards. The word tolerance begets a begrudging attitude of unwilling acceptance at the cost of obligation. Tolerance is the same attitude many white people had in Alabama when the Jim Crow laws were abolished. On paper racism and discrimination are somewhat gone, but tolerance, an obligatory attitude of begrudging acceptance, is what has kept racism alive to this day.
Friends we need peace. There is too much hate in this world simply to walk away agreeing to disagree. May our goal in conversation always be to foster greater mutual understanding; may we aggressively lean in and actively listen to those that share different beliefs from our own. If we can make proactive conversation a habit we might just be able to close the enormous racial, political, and religious gaps we see today. Today’s actions fuel tomorrow’s outcome.