I recently watched this short, yet powerful TED Talk by Dylan Marron in which he states, “sometimes the most subversive thing you can do is actually speak with people you disagree with, not simply at them.”
This is something we are missing in our interactions both online and in-person today. Some would even go so far to say that our country is divided. We have the ability to change that narrative right now.
Just because you disagree with someone does not mean that you cannot empathize with them as another human being. Oftentimes, when we are talking with someone such as this we allow our emotions to cloud our critical thinking skills. Instead of an engaging discourse, the conversation can quickly devolve into an argument. Our emotions become stronger due to the fact that this person’s statements can reach to the very core of who we are. Our beliefs and values. Think about it, you wouldn’t get upset about something that didn’t matter to you.
How do we get out of this pattern?
Remind yourself: “Empathy is not an endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs.” We are not all the same, and this is a good thing! How boring would our world be if we were? You can try to understand another person without approving of them or their behaviors.
So, the next time you find yourself angry about a news story or a comment someone made take a moment, even a deep breath.
- Identify the emotion you are feeling underneath that reactive anger (hurt, disappointment, betrayal, vulnerability, sadness).
- Validate that emotion and tell yourself it’s okay to allow yourself to feel it with all that you are.
- Go deeper. What belief or value is being challenged in this moment? Maybe a need that is not being met?
- For example: Safety, autonomy, compassion, respect, the need to be heard, or independence may be bubbling underneath the surface.
- Affirm. Create a phrase or affirmation that you can offer yourself to validate this missing need.
- Example: Saying out loud or quietly to yourself with your hand over your heart “I will stand behind you always,” “I respect you.” You can also change the phrases to be in a first-person narrative – “I respect me”- if that is easier.
When we can meet these missing needs for ourselves, no one can take it away. Engaging in this exercise in the moment or in preparation/practice can allow us to effectively utilize those critical thinking skills that would otherwise be clouded when we just sit with the surface level emotion of anger. There is always something else there and acknowledging that within yourself can help you to acknowledge it in others.