Things That Don't Suck
'Things That Don't Suck' by Andrea Gibson
Leaning Into Uncomfortable Conversations

Leaning Into Uncomfortable Conversations

How avoiding conflict can cause more conflict

Hello Wonder-Fulls!

I was recently listening to a program on Colorado Public Radio, in which my therapist Julie mediated a conversation between a mother and daughter who had very different opinions about the Covid vaccine. Pained by the distance their opposing viewpoints were creating, the two entered the conversation hoping to better understand one another and ultimately grow closer. I was really moved by their talk, and grateful for both the mother and daughter’s willingness to show up with respect and care for an issue on which I’ve largely heard people begin every sentence with, “You idiot….”

One of the biggest detriments to our society’s evolution is our unwillingness to have conversations with people whose ideas differ from our own. Growing as a world and as individuals is dependent on our capacity to change. It’s much harder to change when I am only willing to engage people who think identically to me, who echo my every opinion. It’s also difficult to become a genuinely empathetic person while having no interest in what is at the emotional root of another person’s values and opinions.

In the U.S, there are very few conversations happening between people on the right and the left. But there is also a growing lack of respectful dialogue between people in leftist communities––a demand for homogenization of thought. Believe what I believe or be cast from the liberal garden.  The expectation to conform or “fall in line” is militaristic in nature. It separates us from our intuition, and robs us of the wonder and curiosity that we as a species must be guided by if we hope to survive.

So why are conversations with people who have different viewpoints difficult? What exactly is it that makes me, or anyone, avoid talking to each other?

The list of things that have historically kept me from difficult conversations is long: 

  • A fear of not being heard or understood. 

  • An assumption that I would show up with a mind open to being changed for the better, but the other person wouldn’t. 

  • Anger about having to explain my perspective in the first place, particularly on issues of social justice. 

  • A sadness that the conversation might end my relationship with the person altogether. 

  • The fact that even entertaining some conversations felt harmful to myself, or others. "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist,” wrote Robert Jones Jr, aka Son of Baldwin. This quote always comes to mind when I’m, for example, considering talking to someone in my life about their homophobia. 

  • But in general, the biggest reason I have evaded difficult conversations boils down to a fear of being hurt.

My susceptibility to being hurt by a discussion varies from moment to moment. In the past, on my most vulnerable days, “I don’t understand what being nonbinary is,” might have landed on me painfully. On other days that same phrase would feel like an invitation to a beautiful and transformative conversation. I now try to pay attention to any part of myself I can strengthen (or soften) to make myself available to connecting with someone who doesn’t yet understand my experience.

Working through disagreement can feel like going against our natural instincts. We are wired to keep ourselves safe, and speaking our truth can be a vulnerable experience. In this guide to having challenging conversations it says, “Lean into conflict. Recognize that challenging conversations are important.” I lean in as much as I can these days. “As much as I can,” does not mean 100% of the time. I honor where I’m at emotionally.  I prioritize the wellness of my body and spirit. And I give myself full permission to leave a conversation if it feels stagnant or cruel.

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for some time you know this topic is something I’m endlessly passionate about. So if you’ve had a difficult conversation in your life that ended up being a transformative experience for you both, I would love to hear what you suspect made it positive. Please share stories in the comments, everyone. Can’t wait to read your words.

Thank you so much for being here!

Andrea 🖤

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Things That Don't Suck
'Things That Don't Suck' by Andrea Gibson
A quest to uncover what shifts, when we shift our attention
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