This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Krista Tippett and her phenomenal podcast, On Being. You should really listen to it if you don’t already. Here’s the description for one of her recent podcast episodes:
“It’s hard to imagine honest, revelatory, even enjoyable conversation between people on distant points of American life right now. But in this public conversation at the Citizen University annual conference, Matt Kibbe and Heather McGhee show us how. He’s a libertarian who helped activate the Tea Party. She’s a millennial progressive leader. They are ‘bridge people’ for this moment — holding passion and conviction together with an enthusiasm for engaging difference, and carrying questions as vigorously as they carry answers.”
About 2/3’s of the way into the show, Krista Tippett springs this pair of questions on both interviewees. This duo is one part empathy and one part humility. She acknowledges that you have to build up enough trust and mutual respect in order for these questions to have any impact. But do it right, and boy is the result worth it for your relationships with people who see things differently than you do. Continue reading What do you see that is good in the position of the other? And what troubles you about your own position?
I’ve put this question in the category of things to ask someone you disagree with. But when you ask it, you don’t need to make the question about politics or religion or whatever topic on which you don’t see eye to eye. (In fact, it’s probably better to leave it open-ended.) The usefulness of this question comes in 1) remembering that changes of heart and changes of mind ARE actually possible, 2) seeing HOW your counterpart was persuaded and better understanding what kinds of new information he finds persuasive, and 3) acknowledging, even in an indirect way, that YOU yourself have not always been right about every issue. And it doesn’t even matter what the issue is. It could be the most “trivial” thing. If I used to think that Diet Coke was good but now I think it’s unhealthy and that regular Coke is better, talking about that process of change will still help the tone of our dialog when conversations swing back to weightier issues. Continue reading What’s one thing you’ve changed your mind about in the last few years?
I’m thinking of Thanksgiving dinner conversations as I write this one. And I’m thinking of the terribly contentious presidential election we’re all just emerging from. I know there are a lot of folks out there who are dreading the prospect of a political food fight erupting at the dinner table. If things start to get heated, you could always just change the subject. (“How about those Cubs finally winning it all?! Am I right, Uncle Breitbart?”) But I’ve never seen that work really well, myself. And it’s probably not productive. We DO NEED to be talking with each other. We DO NEED to listen across the party lines that exist even within our own families (ESPECIALLY within our own families!). But it’s difficult to hear each other when blood pressures rise and people start unholstering their talking points. Talking points… Pshh. Talk about a guaranteed waste of time. Instead, if you can’t (or don’t want to) avoid the political conversation, try this one: “Can we talk about people we know personally?” And follow it up with, “Because I’m thinking of my fishing buddy, Michael, who hasn’t had full-time hours at the plant in over a year.” Or, “Because I’m thinking of my dear friend Janice who is scared that her marriage will be invalidated…again.” Return over and over to ACTUAL PEOPLE YOU KNOW PERSONALLY. It’s disarming. Actual people are Kryptonite to talking points. If you keep the conversation about the people in your lives, both sides can end up with something productive even if you don’t ever agree. You’ll at least start to understand each other’s worldviews. Continue reading Can we talk about people we know personally?
[x] = coffee, [y] = Tuesday
[x] = my church, [y] = Sunday morning
[x] = the potluck, [y] = next weekend
A very wise acquaintance once wrote that she makes it a personal policy NOT to debate religion or politics with someone UNLESS she is in relationship with that person. “In relationship” means that you’ve gotten to know more about a person than merely the candidate they voted for 4 years ago. You’ve interacted with them in various settings. You’ve eaten meals together. You’ve laughed about something together (even if you wouldn’t call each other friends). Arguing faith or politics outside of relationship is only half a step above fighting on the internet with someone’s avatar in the comments section. It’s just pointless. Which is why this [x][y] question matters so much. Fill the x and y however you want. But ask the question so you can BE IN RELATIONSHIP and your disagreements will be productive. Continue reading Want to come to [x] with me on [y]?
If you find yourself in a disagreement and the words passing between you and the other person sound like they could be on a daytime “news” show, then you’re not actually talking to each other; you’re just waving picket signs in each others faces. The conversation becomes much more real when you are talking about one of four things: 1) personal hopes, 2) personal fears, 3) specific people you know and care about, or 4) what it means TO YOU to be ___________ (American, Christian, pro-choice, a gun owner, etc…). This question will nudge you closer to all 4 of these avenues. Continue reading When it comes to this issue, can you tell me what is at stake for you?
As far as bridge-building goes, this question is a 10/10. But when you ask it, you better bring your A-game. You’ve got to be patient, non-judgmental, and not defensive. You have to give first by granting full benefit of the doubt that the person you’re talking to is acting in good faith. But if you can manage it, and if you can hold open the space for meaningful exchange, this question does so much to humanize one person to another. Continue reading What have you always wanted to ask someone who believes what I believe?
When you don’t agree with people, it is completely useless to try to convince them to change their minds. Instead, the point of your conversation should be simply to understand each other better as people. This question about personal experiences does this beautifully. Continue reading Can you tell me about your personal experiences that make you believe that?