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The shocking events in DC last week brought an unexpected opportunity for me.

The events boiled partisan opinion to overflowing. Can you imagine how many yelling matches (or frigid silences) came up at dinner tables? I wondered if there’s some version of these conversations that creates more intimacy and trust instead of division.

If we can’t communicate within our families, why would we communicate between parties, factions, countries, or media outlets?!

My family is uniquely close and open with each other – and we’ve still been at odds over politics. My dad correlated the events in DC to a Biblical-end-times theory he’s been thinking about, and he reached out to share all his insights. 

I knew I would inwardly grate listening to certain parts of his perspective. But more than I care about pointing out the flaws I see in his theory, I’ve been so tired of watching religious and political conversations break down his relationship with my brothers. They are Gen-Z LGBTQ and BLM activists in Atlanta. 

My dad and I have always been very close – he’s been a mentor and emotional support for my entire life. I genuinely believe he’s a genius in his field. And, as I’ve grown older my beliefs have changed from his, and we talk about those beliefs less and less… 

Familiar story, right? 

Here’s the catch: I have a presiding belief that any relationship can be reconciled to love.

I run experiments on that theory regularly. If it’s true, then I thought this would be a great time to test it. 

I never liked this distance between my dad and I over beliefs. It doesn’t work with my commitment to 100% honesty and intimacy in relationships. 

In my experience, one of the fastest paths to personal growth is by making sure there is nothing sitting unaddressed between me and the people I love. Relationships are the brightest mirror to see all of my own flaws, and the most rewarding enrichment of my life to steward well.

So, here comes this conversation with my dad, where he tells me about his right-wing populist theory and armageddon theory and wants to know where I stand. 

Here’s what I decided to do: 

  1. I listened to every chapter of his 2-hour dissertation without reacting or responding to any of it. 
  2. I listened to completely understand the world he sees, no matter how skewed or unreasonable or personally offending certain parts hit me. 
  3. I watched my reactions come up… chatter in my mind… fade… and still kept listening.

When he was done, he didn’t say “Do you believe me?” He asked me to consider what he’d said. Just consider it.

But then I cut to the heart of the issue…

“Dad, are you afraid you’ll lose me if we disagree on politics or beliefs?”

I wanted to get the stuff under the rug out in the light. As long as there’s stuff under the rug, I may as well speak Swahili when I share my views. They won’t be heard the way I intend. 

I discovered that he was really the most concerned that I’d lost my faith. He believes in a specific afterlife, and mentioned losing me then, in the afterlife. 

So, I understood.

As much as it sometimes sounds like “You’re wrong and you need to believe what I believe,” what’s underneath that is actually “I love you and this is a way that I can still care for you now that you’re grown.”

It took a lot to receive that love how he’s communicating it, without correcting him. I told him I‘d still love to share my perspective.

Here’s the beautiful part: we were able to completely sidestep the argument and get to the heart of the matter. We bonded over beliefs we have in common still. We ended the call as close and connected as we’ve ever been, without getting lost in interpretations of media and news (= black hole) or trying to change each other. In fact, my dad felt so deeply listened to that he invited me to freely share my perspective, without him trying to convince or prove me wrong.

That’s intimacy.

Victoria Museums for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The conversations that we avoid with family are exactly the same rift-causing patterns that split up homes, business, families, parties, and countries.

We tolerate it with the people we’re closest to, so naturally the no-mans-land blows up to such a grand scale that entertainment companies can fill in colossal communication gaps with fiction clickbait. And we have no idea.

← British Library for Unsplash

It takes a lot of patience and listening to clean up all the messes we leave unspoken. Not by listening for what’s right and wrong in their theories, but by listening to the values they find meaningful and the identity they’re afraid to let go of. Listening to let them know that they’re valid. 

It works like magic – as soon as someone feels valid and you’ve heard to their very last word, they suddenly have the most generous, patient listening for you too. And after you both share and listen like that… there’s an affinity restored that has nothing to do with the views whatsoever.

That affinity is what it feels like when two people can be honest.

Honest about how scary it is to feel wrong, crazy, or damned in the eyes of someone they care about. Then, in the midst of that gut-wrenching honesty, giving each other the freedom to express: not because the views are valid… because we each are valid to think, feel, express, and speak.

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