CLIMATE CONNECTIONS: Marilyn Nyborg: Listen more, talk less; deepen the conversation
We recently attended a family wedding in Arizona and had the opportunity to get reacquainted with family members. The couple that stepped up to care for us while we were there, were our niece and her husband.
In the course of our conversations, we asked what they felt about climate change. While our niece did not engage in the conversation, her husband did. In essence, he was not concerned, and in fact he said the arctic had more ice than ever. Now, John is a very smart guy and he does his research.
I am sure he got where we were coming from and we listened as his facts differed greatly from ours. It was difficult to defend our point of view, as he had such specific details on the subject. He countered with his facts, where we tended to hold to what we believed, felt and had read.
After a while my partner just asked him questions. Where did he get his information? How did he feel about the condition the oceans are in? He replied that the oceans definitely needed to get cleaned up. And he added the air pollution was also an issue that needed attending. He agreed that the planet needed help with all the chemicals injected or disposed in the ground.
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In essence, we found a lot of agreement. I think the word climate change has been so polarizing, so political that people close down around the conversation. We did not convince him and would not have regardless of our language; however, we did feel we got further in finding common ground agreement.
As our visit came to an end, they told us they found us to be really open, and easy to talk with! We left with the understanding that asking questions is far more efficient than engaging in disagreement. The later approach just further alienates the other, while asking questions is the safer route if you have a relationship or a family member you care about. If caring relationships can ease the tensions between our differing positions, that feels like a plus to me.
Did we change their minds? I doubt it. But they are unlikely to ever change their minds. But we did touch their hearts. And who knows what seeds were planted?
I strongly agree with this summary for the Bridging Differences initiative: Polarization harms relationships, encourages violence, and undermines our democracy. There is a growing movement of individuals and organizations who are working to foster more constructive dialogue and understanding across group lines, bringing us together at a time when so many forces are pulling us apart. Our differences do not need to define or divide us. And bridge building shouldn’t be used as a tool of persuasion or coercion, especially not to consolidate power in order to attack or oppress others.
Rather than avoid political or religious conversations, let’s discover how we can have them from a heartfelt and civil place. Where do we start? Think of the people you like or are related to but differ with you in their perspectives and values. Perhaps you just don’t speak to these conflicting issues. What if you began by saying, “I would love to ask you some questions about your stand on politics? What influenced you to assume your opinions? Did you grow up with parents who spoke often of what they believed? What has changed your mind in the past? Where do you get your facts? Do you listen to the other side’s news stations? What if we each watched the other’s favorite news station for three days, and discussed what we heard differently? What other neutral questions could you ask?
Do not enter into conversation if you are angry! Handle your anger first. No one will hear your words if you deliver them in anger. You may feel better but you have not forwarded your cause at all. A calm mind without the fight, flight, or freeze responses allows you to accept that alternative viewpoints exist outside of your own and increases listening and cognition.
By developing capacity to listen with less emotional judgment, we enhance our capacity to understand the messages the other is trying to convey. As we become better listeners and create a safe place for others to talk about important topics, there is potential for everyone to have more clarity and to find common ground.
ACTION: Listen more and talk less. Listen and reflect back to the speaker what you heard. Deepen the conversation.
Marilyn Nyborg, author of A Woman’s Guide to Sacred Activism, organizer and networker, has been a resident of Nevada County for 32 years. Sushila Mertens contributed to this story.
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