2020 proved to be a year of drastic change, unpredictable sacrifices and vast personal and social disruption. We were urged and demanded to change most aspects of our lives, which led to personal and social disruption. Such sacrifices were meant to serve the wellness of our communities. Thus, we took precautions through drastic lifestyle changes.
As change, sacrifice and disruption typified 2020, these same themes will likely be present in 2021. This new year is a crucible where fervent thoughts, emotions and beliefs could further divide or unite us at home, in our communities and in society-at-large.
Dialogue appears to be the only way forward, even when disagreement lies ahead. Here are some guiding considerations to face those conversations:
Change is inevitable.
As day falls to night, we succumb to change every day when we wake up from sleep. Change is eternal progress in motion. In 2020, most people altered the quality of their lives to do most things online. Change demands you to expect it within yourself, others and in the natural world.
Dialogue is the art of communicable units of change as people can influence or radically alter the thoughts, feelings and beliefs in others. Imagine speaking to others in honor of the fact that while change is universal, it is more subjective to the person. Imagine being without assumption that you know the best answer to how things should be or where it all should go.
For example, you may want to continue homeschooling your child, while your best friend cannot wait to have their child return to school as soon as possible, vaccine or not. I invite you to consider having discussions about how one experiences such changes and their vision of the present or future. You do not have to agree with their answers. Instead, consider it a feat if you can articulate a thought, feeling or belief and, simultaneously, listen to and identify those in another person.
Listening is an act of self-sacrifice.
Our two ears represent the dichotomy of self and other. When you listen with one ear, you only hear yourself and likely miss something said. Listening with both ears may allow you to tune into different aspects of the speaker. You may hear one’s past or present, core emotions or transient thoughts.
At times, you may hear a firm belief that may not fit in with yours so what happens next is crucial. Do you provoke an argument, incite a debate or throw in the towel? Do you judge them with a “fill-in-the-blank” label that puts one into a lockbox and makes you feel sane again?
What if you decided to sacrifice your held narrative (thoughts, feelings or beliefs) for another person’s lived reality? To do so, you might have to slow down and release, momentarily, the static, if not dichotomous nature of your narrative in an attempt to listen deeply to what one said and understand how the speaker has come to understand their experience. You may not like what you hear. It may hurt, feel gross or inflict anger.
If you are willing to tune in with both ears and listen a little longer, then it is possible that you might hear something that makes sense or causes intrigue. You should exercise this practice and see if you can maintain your emotional responses in order to listen and then, articulate your point of view. Typically, there is much to learn here as you expand in deep listening.
Disagreement is the door to disruption, but the key is emotional regulation.
In theory, all dialogue is supposed to be beneficial, yet contradicting thoughts, feelings and beliefs can grip people into their corner of the world. It always feels more comfortable being within one’s own echo chamber, not to be challenged and only supported by allies. Let’s be real: disagreements can be exhausting, saddening and stressful.
2021 is a corridor into a deeper state of disruption where the call to unite may only breed greater division. Unity is challenged without real, honest dialogue.
However, disagreement can be trying from the perspective of the nervous system. It is natural to hear something that evokes a raw emotion. It would be human to let that emotion trigger you into a reactive state, that is, feel a legitimate emotion (i.e. anger) and express it toward yourself and others (i.e. begin to yell). During moments of emotional disruption, regulation must be brought into the mechanism of your awareness.
Emotional regulation is the ability to balance your inner state of emotions so that you are more reflexive and flexible in the moment. Dialogue is a chance to exercise an emotional experience and transform it in order to further the conversation. That could mean communicating the negotiation of your thoughts, verbalizing your emotions or expressing beliefs with others in a tone that can be heard by them. You have a right to honor your feelings, yet the task here is about converting the rawness of an emotion in a manner which conveys what is underneath it.
Let me also be real about hurtful content. There are things people can share that you not only disagree with, but it causes great harm and danger for you to further the conversation. As this could be the case, you have to listen to your gut, first and foremost, to know what is appropriate to engage in and that which is unhealthy for you. Only you will know that distinction.
As a final note, do not wait for others to initiate sincere dialogue and demonstrate the way forward. Do not wait for your favorite social figure online (or offline) to make disagreement cool again. Accept this article as your reality check-in. Moving forward, your growth lies in facing the challenge of dialogue with fearlessness and fortitude.
Expect disagreement, as much as you anticipate understanding. Perhaps they are two sides of the same coin.