Seek to understand. We can all take time to listen to someone else's story and have some empathy from their perspective.
Don’t some people really upset us? Though hopefully not incurring the fate of the cyclist, is not our tendency to at worst confront or at best avoid them? The annoyers—our supervisors, co-workers, subordinates, public officials, neighbors, and oftentimes family members.
Admittedly there are those I don’t care for. Be it a case of different interests, personality differences, religious beliefs, or varying viewpoints, don’t we tend to gravitate towards those with whom we share commonality? Is our attitude then further reinforced by what we see and hear in our communications media: argument and disagreement, taunting and belittlement, right vs. wrong, little forethought for reason and compromise?
We each have the ability to shape the thoughts and ideas of only one person and that is ourselves. Given that, what are we doing to shift attitude?
Fifty years ago, the duo “Friend and Lover” charted their one hit, “Reach Out of the Darkness.” The lyrics still resound today:
“I knew a man that I did not care for.
And then one day this man gave me a call.
We sat and talked about things on our mind.
And now this man he is a friend of mine.”
In few venues is contentiousness more prevalent than in our politics. It was therefore heartening last June to read this piece in Time Magazine, where US Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) shared,
“I’m grateful for the late Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), who taught me that the bonds of friendship are stronger than any partisan pull. When I first joined the Senate, I thought that Teddy would be an adversary. Instead we became the best of friends.
Teddy and I were a case study in contradictions. He was born into privilege; I was brought up in poverty. He was an East Coast liberal; I was a Reagan conservative. He was a Catholic; I was a Mormon. Yet time and again, we were able to look past our differences to find areas of agreement and forge consensus. Had Teddy and I chosen party loyalty over friendship, we would not have passed some of the most significant bipartisan achievements of modern times—from the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to the Ryan White bill and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.”
Another arena that applauds disregard and maybe even hatred for the opponent is in sports. During the 1960’s no rivalry was as intense as that in the NBA between the Celtics and 76ers, and the two centers leading their respective franchises, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Yet, off the court the two had a personal relationship that was vastly different from the public perception.
On the court, Russell was always portrayed as the giant-killer, the slayer of the monster named Wilt. Yet, even during the peak of their on-court duels, Russell and Chamberlain often ate dinner at each other’s homes.
“We never talked about the last game or the next game or what might happen tomorrow,” Russell said. “We were just a couple of guys who truly enjoyed each other’s company and then the next night we’d both go out there and try our best to kick the other guy’s ass. We never tried to get into each other’s head.”
Those of us who are married, have been married, or are in a committed relationship know well its highs and lows. But what about when the spouses are diametrically opposed…politically…and ply their trade in public forum, one as a conservative and the other a liberal.
Mary Matalin and James Carville represent the north and south of the political spectrum. Yet for their 23 year marriage they have raised two daughters and stuck together through the good and the bad.
Carville says their shockingly simple secret is they compartmentalize—they keep their work and political beliefs in proper perspective. Politics is simply one part of a much bigger, glorious household picture. A person’s politics is not the sum total of attributes that make up his or her character.
He adds, “You don’t change anybody’s view of politics. You can only change their view of you.” Then his clincher, “We have an advantage over a lot of people because we’re in love with each other. You know, at the end of the day, that’s kind of a big advantage.”
Growth and renewal is rewarding. Getting there can be a challenge. It brings some discomfort. It requires some give and take. You’ll need to take time to listen to someone else’s story and have some empathy from their perspective. Seek to understand. Who is that fellow employee, neighbor, acquaintance, or family member that needs to hear from you? Your surprise may be in how much you have in common. Most importantly a difference may well be made in the lives of two people on this planet.
The Seed Sower