Tag Archives: interpolitical

Beginning the InterPolitical Conversation

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person. – Dinah Craik dscn0223

“Safe Space” is one of the thousand plus words added to the Merriam Webster dictionary this week. MW defines a safe space as “a place (as on a college campus) intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.”

I must take exception to that last bit, although I understand its purpose. No one should be physically or verbally threatened or attacked. However it is likely in conversations about highly charged issues that one’s assumptions, worldviews, and belief systems will be challenged – if not threatened. In that sense, it’s not a safe space.
I address this issue in my book as it applies to interfaith and intrafaith conversations.

For some people, entering into an interfaith experience can be confrontational. For some, engaging in intrafaith conversation can be equally or more challenging. For this reason, I usually begin a new group with the poem, “It Is Difficult, O God” by C.S. Song. I do this to let them know that discomfort is to be expected, in fact it is perfectly normal. Having said that, it is essential to create an environment of respect and safety. By safety, I do not mean that one’s belief system may not be shaken. It is entirely possible that it might be. What I mean by a safe environment is one in which viewpoints are respected and in which the leader is capable of managing the group process under all circumstances. There will inevitably be challenging ideas and differences of opinion. There will often be conversations that will cause some participants to become distressed or upset. The idea is not to avoid conflict, disagreements or upset, but to manage them in appropriate and safe ways.

I am coming more and more to the belief that this is the same kind of basis we now need in order to enter into interpolitical conversations. Many of us are recognizing that people on opposite sides in our polarized nation need to talk to one another. But what I also hear again and again is that we don’t know how to do that. From both sides I hear the expectation of not being heard and/or verbally attacked.Thankfully, help is becoming available. I’ve recently discovered a resource called Reaching Across the Red-Blue Divide, a free download from the Essential Partners website.

Their pitch:screenshot-2016-11-23-08-37-31
Most of us have at least one important relationship that has either been strained by painful conversations about political differences or silenced due to fear that it could get ugly. Bring it up and fight about it or avoid the conversation – and sometimes the person – altogether. Both options limit who we can be together as friends or family and limit what we can accomplish in our communities. What alternatives are there? You can let media pundits and campaign strategists tell you that polarization is inevitable and hopeless. Or you can consider reaching out and taking a journey with someone who is important to you. With some tools to support your best intentions, you can actually learn about what motivates other people and understand how they’ve come to believe the way they do. Connecting across our differences is both possible and necessary.

The introduction promises to:
help prepare you to speak about what is most important to you in ways that can be heard, and to hear others’ concerns and passions with new empathy and understanding even if — especially if — you continue to disagree.The guide offers a step-by-step approach to inviting another person — someone whose perspectives differ from your own — into a conversation in which:

  • You agree to set aside the desire to persuade the other and instead focus on developing a better understanding of each other’s perspectives, and the hopes, fears, and values that underlie them;
  • You agree to be curious and to avoid the pattern of attack and defend;
  • You choose to ask questions and move beyond stereotypes and assumptions.

A lot of the process they outline is very similar to what I advocate in The INTRAfaith Conversation. But there is material specifically geared to the interpolitical, such as how to be at our best on social media.

So – now there’s no excuse. The plan is pretty simple. We – I – just have to do it. As I read my words describing interfaith and intrafaith conversations, I wonder if I can substitute political and be able to say the same thing. I think it’s worth a try.

I learned that entering into an exploration of other peoples’ religious faith and practice is a wonder-filled experience. For me, hearing another’s story is an intimate look inside that person’s heart, and that is not something to be taken lightly. In both my interfaith and intrafaith encounters, I have heard stories of joy, as well as stories of pain and hurt. In many of the encounters, each participant brought his or her whole self into the process. Entering into an examination of religious beliefs took us even more deeply into one another’s lives. It was crucial that an atmosphere of safety and trust had been created because, as I came to realize, the ground of this kind of encounter is a place of extreme intimacy and vulnerability. It is sacred ground. I often found myself in awe at the willingness of many of the participants to give of themselves, not only in terms of time, but more importantly in terms of openness — to me, to others, to their own growth process.   It is a privilege to be in the company of such people.

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That Time I Shared the Hotel Shuttle with Trump Supporters

22march9-superjumbo“Were you here for the Women’s March?” The woman joining me as I waited for the hotel shuttle to the airport was friendly.
“Yes!” I responded.
“Where are you from?”
“Berkeley, CA”

“How about you,” I asked.
“Phoenix, AZ.”
“Were you here for the March?” I was expecting to launch into another conversation about what a wonderful event it had been.

“No,” she said, “we were here for the inauguration,” indicating her adult son who had now joined her. He was wearing a knit cap with TRUMP stitched across the front. I then noticed her American flag scarf. (7:00 am is way too early for me; I wasn’t as observant as I might have been later in the day).

Then she went on to say, “We’re some of the ‘deplorables’ you’ve heard about.”

Oh, boy. I responded by shaking my head and saying something like, “No, no. Let’s not go there. We have to learn how to talk with one another.” They agreed.

The conversation continued in the shuttle. Mostly I listened. I did state my own opinion several times. I wasn’t trying to hide or play down my own position. I explained to them about my book and that I think the process of the intrafaith conversation could be the same for an interpolitical one. She took down my email address and book information and said she would check it out. She said I was “level-headed.”

I thought about this encounter often over the next several days. I wondered if I had sold myself short by not speaking out against some of the things she’d said. I worried that I was becoming a hypocrite, advocating interpolitical dialogue, but then going back to my Bay area bubble where I can easily speak out against He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

When I boarded the Amtrak train for Philadelphia, I found it was filled with women from the March. Yea! I was back among my peeps! I even met two ELCA women who were sitting right across the aisle from me. We had a grand time talking about the weekend and discussing next steps in the resistance.

But that shuttle conversation keeps nagging at me. Will I ever have the courage – or the will – to bring together an interpolitical group? It would have to have the same safety and respect guidelines that I wrote about in my book. And the same expectations – that, while participants positions may not change drastically, the ability to listen respectfully would.

Because it’s got to be about relationship-building. I don’t agree with a whole lot of the political opinions of my friends on the shuttle, but I don’t feel good about calling them names either. I have a feeling  they’re going to stay in my mind, nagging at me and challenging me to put my money where my mouth is. One thing I’ve learned about discerning whether something is a calling is that the thing you don’t want to do is often he very thing you’re being called to do.

Great.

More discernment is definitely necessary.