26 July 2016
Remember when things were better?
I’ve been reading a lot of Jasper Fforde lately. His Thursday Next series, to be specific. It imagines a world where fiction is of central cultural relevance. People attend weekly Rocky-Horror-like performances of Shakespeare’s Richard III. When the text of a classic changes, even subtly, whole swathes of society are upset by it. For lots of us, this is the world we wished we lived in—a world that harkens back to our school days when everything around us validated our geeky choices.
Today, we’re in the middle of one of the most contentious times I can remember, and I can remember back to Watergate. “Civil discourse” has largely gone by the wayside, and even people who nominally agree on things can still argue over trivialities. How do we venture out into the world without hurting ourselves or other people?
Lesson 1: Listen
There are about a million sub-steps to listen, but I’ll go over just two. The first and easiest is don’t talk. You can’t find out anything about someone else’s point of view if you’re the one talking.
The second is to clear your mind of the thing you want to say in response. Because if you’re formulating your next sentence, you’re not listening.
Listening doesn’t imply agreement or a lack of thought or anything else. It’s polite and respectful, and is the first step toward building a bridge between yourself and someone else.
Lesson 2: Question
Let’s be crystal clear: there’s a difference between question and interrogate. We question when we respectfully ask for information we need to make sense of a situation. We interrogate when we are trying to prove our own point rather than understanding someone else’s.
When you question someone else’s beliefs, they’re going to feel attacked. But if you ask them for information about themselves that supports and underlies those beliefs, you’ll get to the heart of how their lives differ from yours, and why their expectations are different.
Lesson 3: Empathize
In science fiction, empathy is elevated to the status of a superpower. Aliens have it, humans don’t. That’s hardly true. Empathy starts with a search for common ground. Human beings share 96% of their genome with chimpanzees, but nearly 100% of their genome with each other, meaning that no matter how different another person may seem, there is something you have in common. People whose opinions are radically different than yours are normally people who have had an entirely different set of stressors in their lives, creating problems you haven’t had.
Lesson 4: Walk Away
One of the hardest lessons to learn is that you’re never going to be able to convince some people. But it’s sometimes hard to tell in the heat of the moment. Some people need time to digest the things they’ve heard in order to modify their views. Walk away before the discussion devolves into argument and your words never get the chance to sink in.
Lesson 5: Be Open to Change
When you’re trying to convince someone else that they’re wrong, you’re demanding that they change. But what if you find that you not only understand and empathize with their views, but might even agree with them? We’ve all met people who admit that their views are wrong, but who hold them strongly anyway because it’s less painful than admitting their mistake. Are you that person? Be open to modifying your views when new, compelling information presents itself!
Have you stuck with us to the end? In that case, we’ve got a reward for you! This week, you can get 25% off when you get both Nicole Oquendo’s Telomeres and Christopher Grillo’s The Six-Fold Radial Symmetry of Snow to round out your summer reading! Click here and use the code SUMMERPOETRY at checkout! (You’re welcome!)
We love you, and we’d love for you to catch up with us on social media – we’re everywhere you are!
And don’t forget to check out In which Lucy, dying from a broken heart… our Alphanumeric selection that runs until next Tuesday!