2016 has been a challenging year. Many people have struggled personally and politically there have been some surprises. When I talk with people, many state that they are fearful of what may be coming next.
When I am feeling fearful, I like to read. I like to get as much information as I can in hopes that with understanding there will be comfort. Unfortunately, in some cases, clarity is difficult due to the complexity of the situation and so I am forced to sit in the fear and accompanying psychological discomfort.
This feels like the case with some of the topics that have been brought to light with the recent U.S. election, Brexit, and other world events. Fear, anger, and hate are escalating to a whole new level, leaving people feeling more segregated than ever.
In hopes of trying to make sense of things after the presidential election in the U.S., I came across a post by Brené Brown, Ph. D., LMSW. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She had a powerful post on Facebook, which included the following:
“Finding connection with people that we perceive as “the other” is our collective mandate. Maybe the conversation will be about something other than politics – something small that we share in common. I don’t think it will be easy, but I believe it is the only way forward.
We are often susceptible to the worst stereotypes and myths about groups, but people are hard to hate close up. My hope is that we can turn toward each other and find even the smallest bit of grace surging between us.”
In response, one of her readers, Janey Imanni Chowdhury shared her story:
“I am a Muslim who lives in Virginia with neighbors who support Trump. So I went over to their house this morning with pie to let them that I am scared because I do not know what this means for me and my children but I am here to build a relationship with them because I know we all want the same things. They invited me in to their house and told me about how they have been scared since 9/11 and how it has changed their lives forever. I can understand their pain and why they feel like this. We are all scared and trying to find a solution.”
I feel like as a nation we made a big mistake, we kept shaming the trump supporters instead of listening to their concerns.
I am tired of seeing them as the other. It’s not working. I am tired of being scared too. I am just ready to be bold and fight hate with courage and compassion.”
Dr. Brown responded by stating that as humans our tendency is to shame instead of focusing on behaviors. We say things like “You are a racist” instead of “that feels like racism”. She explained that this has come up in her research for years and that we have to be careful when we deny people’s fears instead of wading in and figuring out what is going on.
There aren’t many people who put their hand up when asked to participate in a difficult conversation. For most of us, avoiding these types of conversations is how we cope, and understandably so. The problem is that when we do this, fear grows. Brené Brown’s research (brenebrown.com) shows that in the absence of information our brains are designed to fill in the gaps and for the most part it’s negative and inaccurate. Without actually verifying that information, we continue to believe our own stories, which can have tremendous implications on our decision-making and how we interact with others.
What conversation does is it helps us to learn and more importantly it helps us to understand someone else’s viewpoint. The problem is that it takes tremendous courage to sit in that uncomfortableness, to be challenged by someone and then to challenge ourselves to think differently.
However, what if you could speak and no matter what you had to say, it could be discussed and acknowledged, not to the point of changing that view but with the goal of possibly understanding another person’s view. We don’t all have to agree, but can we at least have a conversation about it?
I am not naive in thinking that this will be possible with everyone but what would happen if we started a conversation at work or with a neighbour who is different than us in some way? What if we got to know that person, what if we were open to their differences, what if we discovered they weren’t so different from us, what if…