Have Lunch with Your Enemy

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 thatEnemy 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.


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  • Hiro

    Amen, Jen. To stay engaged. To stay in relationship. This is service. This is honoring the Sacred in each of us, and in the spaces between us. Thank you for this wise and generous post.

    • jenlouden

      only practicing what I learn from you!

  • http://twitter.com/pamslim Pamela Slim

    Living in the state of Arizona, I very frequently talk with people who have extremely different political views than I do. I have really opened up to your #3 strategy, and find that it helps so much. Great post!

    • jenlouden

      Arizona is lucky to have the sane and loving Pam Slim to create dialogue and build bridges.

  • http://twitter.com/JeffreyDavis108 Jeffrey Davis

    Jen~I love the story and the take-away. I hope you dont mind me relaying my own version that happened last week: Only 3 weeks ago, I was in deep research related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for our township in upstate NY. Come to find out my hometown in TX is, not surprisingly, frack-happy. I go to TX on family business and have dinner with nephew, his wife, and a friend of theirs. Friend mentions he’s been in upstate NY. Why? Fracking. Of course. He works for an oil company. Says, “Fracking’s a good deal.” I say, calmly, smiling back, “Fracking’s not a good deal except for the few who profit off of it.” We proceed to have an ongoing mutually curious conversation in which he draws me diagrams and gives his company’s side of why the process is safe (and he also admits the risks and the lack of argument beyond personal profit), and I give him a series of non-threatening inquisitive questions and counter-points. We shook hands and exchanged e-addresses and promised to give each other more info.

    I had dinner with the enemy. But, really, I never perceived him as such. I saw him as an opportunity for me truly to learn if there was, in fact, more information or a better argument that I was ignorant of. Sadly, there wasn’t. But I did make a new acquaintance who just happens to hold a very different worldview and value system than I do.

    Love your spirit, Jen. Thx for this line of query.

    • Mahala Mazerov

      I really like this story, Jeffrey. Like Jennifer’s there was gentleness that led to real communication.

      As I’ve thought about this post, I’ve thought about the benefits of staying that way even when you meet with an unyielding response.

      One is the benefit to you, to who you are as a human being. The other is you don’t know your impact in the future.

      Not long ago I was in a sadly aggressive (from them) conversation about Muslims in America. I was heartbroken by their attitudes, but kept my cool in the face of unsubstantiated ideas and personal attack. Almost a week later I was in a room with one of the people involved in the conversation. He made a point to come up to me. He said he really respected the way I held myself in the conversation and couldn’t help but notice the difference between the person attacking me claiming Muslims were dangerous and violent.

      There was no exchange of emails, like yours Jeffrey, but something happened there. One person, maybe a little less fear, maybe a new curiosity.

      Planting seeds of respect.

      • http://twitter.com/JeffreyDavis108 Jeffrey Davis

        Mahala~Thanks for sharing your story, too. Yes, it’s such a challenge for many of us to remain open or neutral or curious instead of critical and defensive. Obviously, your response and lack of reactivity made an impression on someone. 

        • jenlouden

           I am, as always, in awe of the wisdom of our world and each of you!

    • http://www.workingwithpower.com Michele Lisenbury Christensen

       Hi Jeffrey,  Nice to see you here!  I came to celebrate another amazing post from Jen, with such a beautiful marriage of kidness and conviction (never hardened, but straight and strong and fluid all at once, like a willow tree, ready to bend as is fruitful).  I am mindful of the more stubborn, judgmental streaks in me (oaklike?). Growing up in and visiting Alaska, I often have chance to encounter people with strong interests in oil, gold mining, and other pursuits… including some who I love.  Especially in my teens when I was busy trying to individuate, I’ve many times made an ass of myself when dining with a (self-made) enemy.  Since then, I’ve learned a lot and found solid information about some topics I thought were sealed deals.

      I still “believe” in global warming and don’t believe in turning a mountain to dust (which flows into streams) for a pickup load of gold, but I do cherish the chances to really hear the people who are hardest to stop and be present to.  Thanks for the reminders, Jen, and Jeffrey, too.

  • joychristin

    I love listening to others, I learn so much…*and* then I know to what depth to share…And, this is why vulnerability is essential, and what ‘one gets’ from the experience: “It builds bridges, opens minds, expands our world.”…Beautiful in all ways…thank you :)

    • jenlouden

      beautifully aid thank you Joy.

  • http://twitter.com/KateGeorge Kate George

    This is so true. Very insightful of you to be able to put it in words, Jen. Thanks.

    • jenlouden

      thank you!

  • Mahala Mazerov

    Another gorgeous post, Jennifer. I am constantly finding opportunities to practice and astounded at what sometimes unfolds when I hold my judgements and open.
    I wonder what our world would be if we all learned to be soft and respectful.

    • jenlouden

       i can only imagine a more peaceful and easy place to live!!

  • DangerousLinda

    Hi, Jennifer! ~
    Thank you for being who you are!  Great story!I told a similar story (5 min 39 sec) you might enjoy on Minnesota Public Radio which can  be found at this link, click on the first story Red Rover to listen: http://www.dangerouslinda.com/storytelling 

    • jenlouden

       i really look forward to listening when i have a moment Linda – I know it is going t be great.

  • http://twitter.com/thoughtxthought Thought by Thought


    • jenlouden

       yes that is the practice every moment – observing and loving and gently steering! thanks for that hug!

  • http://www.jenvertanen.com/blog Jen {The Wholehearted Life}

    Oh so pertinent with the weekend I just had with family..I wasn’t in the right headspace to engage so I didn’t (really proud of myself for that!) but it’s one of my very favorite things to engage and learn from others with different perspectives. I do it often and always coming away with a bit more perspective and knowledge even though I still don’t agree. I don’t have to agree…I just need to have and articulate *my* perspective and hope that others want to learn from me just as I want to learn from them.

    Thanks so much for sharing this ~ Jen

    • jenlouden

       and sometimes maybe we can’t even articulate because we are too fragile or tired or defensive. We can breath and listen, and no it is not up to us to explain GMO’s or global warming if we cannot. Thanks Jen for stopping by!

  • Susan Piver

    This is so beautiful. And I completely relate with the 3 choices… And how it always, always seems to be true that when we let our enemy into our heart –not to agree with them, condone, them or even LIKE them–but simply to engage with them without an agenda, we become friends. Friendship changes the world. It is no joke that when we open our hearts, we change the world!! Love you for being so courageous. xo S

    • jenlouden

       it is no joke my wise friend

  • http://www.thetruthisyou.com/ Travis Eneix

    Great stuff!

    I did this, this year, with someone from a FaceBook “spiritual” group who lives close to me, and has some mutual friends.  On the groups I frequent, he and I, have butted heads many times, and not gotten anywhere. 

    At the lunch, we had an amazing conversation, and exchange of ideas.  We did not agree on every little point, but being face-to-face, putting a human face on the words, let us really get to appreciate each other as actual full beings.

    Thanks again for the awesome article!

    • jenlouden

       It does help being face to face, doesn’t it Travis! Actual full beings, love that. THAT IS SO KEY to all of this and why the interwebs can be dangerous for our hearts. Gossip too. NEVER  fails to amaze me that if I show up and talk face to face with someone, everything changes. Thanks for that reminder!

  • http://twitter.com/susan_kuhn Susan Kuhn

    In the sense you mean, I married the “enemy.”  We got along great.  

  • Amara Ann

    I so needed to hear this right now what with the election looming and about a hundred other things that hurt my heart each and every day. Thanks,Jen