Lunch with your enemy? Jen, I don’t have any enemies.
Okay, enemy is a harsh word but when I encounter someone who holds a very different opinion than me, if I listen in on my mind, especially if I am tired or in a bad place, I can hear some pretty harsh thoughts.
You are different than me, you don’t get it, why do you believe that? Enemy thoughts.
Yesterday was parent orientation at University of Washington. Lilly’s university.
I spent the day learning about roommate conflicts, how to pay tuition and the D-Day like move-in plan (precise organization people!). Tears were shed and lunch was served. I found myself eating and chatting with another freshman mom.
Somehow, I don’t remember why, I brought up climate change and she said, between bites of salad, “Oh, do you believe in that?”
Do I believe in climate change? Deep breath.
Now here is where things got interesting.
I watched myself choose between:
DOOR NUMBER 1 – Dismiss her as ignorant (ugly but true) and murmur something inane to change the subject
DOOR NUMBER 2 – Get righteous. (“Believe! I don’t believe. I have facts!”)
DOOR NUMBER 3 – Remain curious and soft.
I choose door number 3. (Note: I do not always chose door number 3.) (Additional note: that is a minor understatement.)
We had this gentle conversation in which I offered a few references like Bill McKibben’s article in Rolling Stone and Richard Muller’s recent “conversion” and she told me about her husband of many strong opinions and how she is trying to raise her boys to think for themselves, and we both agreed that being open minded and researching our facts is the most important thing.
Instead of leaving our conversation angry or sad, I felt nourished and that I had been of service.
Having Lunch with the “Enemy” is SO Important
On the drive-in to the university, I listened to an NPR story about the tragedy in Wisconsin in which a man whose father was murdered asked us to pay as much as attention to this shooting as we did the horror in Colorado. Why wouldn’t we? Because for many of us, Sikhs are different, foreign, and we can’t as easily put ourselves in their shoes.
The same thing happens when we encounter someone that is different than we are in how they dress or what they believe. We close down. We get judgmental. Or we go into “nice girl” or “what’s the point guy?” which really isn’t much better.
When we don’t work to keep ourselves open and in relationship, we fracture our social web. We retreat into our little worlds where everyone believes what we believe, eats what we eat, raises their children the right way.
And that, my darling, is how we make enemies. We literally make “the other” when we are too afraid or busy or self-righteous to stay open and curious.
I believe each time we do this, we contribute, unwilling, to the kind of political hideousness that now grips our country (and so many others) and threatens our well-being on all levels.
Look, I’m not saying it’s easy to do this. Or that it’s necessary 100% of the time. Choose to engage when you are rested and feeling safe. Invite curiosity to be your guide. Stay with yourself if you get triggered and ask yourself, “Wonder why this gets to me?” Don’t focus on an outcome but the connection.
This is very important service. It builds bridges, opens minds, expands our world.
Stay gentle, stay true to yourself, stay open, stay in conversation.
P.S. My friend Elizabeth Lesser gave a fantastic TED talk about this very subject in which she offers 3 powerful questions to ask during these kinds of conversations. Please enjoy, it’s only 12 minutes.