Saturday, June 26, 2010

Nice Idea But ...

A reader posted this comment on the last entry (What Has No Opposite) – “Wonderful to read (one feels so right reading it!) and complex to live.”

So how can we live it? How can we stop ourselves before we get hooked in an argument that creates a chasm between us rather than a bridge? What techniques or reminders can we use to soften those “ancient habitual patterns” (as Pema Chodron calls them) of seeing everything and everyone in terms of right and wrong?

I certainly don’t have the answer, but I know that not being so quick to argue has helped me live more contentedly in my happy place. This reader’s comment led me to reflect on some things I have learned.

Perhaps the first thing was realizing that winning an argument doesn’t always make me happy. Being right must be its own reward, because often there isn’t much else to gain from it. At some point I decided that in many instances, being happy was more important to me than being right. Tough on my ego, but nourishing to my spirit.

When poised to do battle, I try to ask myself first if the issue has a “right” answer. For example, whether a particular restaurant is on SE Morrison or SW Morrison does have a right answer. The next question is whether being right is worth arguing about. In the restaurant example, it might be worth some discussion if y’all are headed to that restaurant for dinner and you need to know where it is. If it isn’t worth debate, then let it go. (I’m Right – So What)

If the issue doesn’t have a right answer, for example, what the best way is to get to the restaurant, then I try to recognize that the discussion is really an exchange of opinions. I can advocate for my opinion while still listening to and respecting other views.

Easy – right? Not. Especially if it is an opinion near and dear to my heart. I had a lot of opinions about the 2008 presidential election, for example. Opinions I felt very strongly about. I was blessed to have a friend whose opinions did not match mine. I say blessed because so many other people around me shared my views. I could voice an observation confident that it would be received with nodding heads and murmured support. I was in a virtual gated community of homogeneous world views. Except for this one friend.

Throughout the primaries and campaign we debated. I was challenged to step out of my comfort zone and listen, really listen. I was aware of the language I used, careful to distinguish fact from interpretation, mindful of the difference between reasoned judgment and personal attack. I had to acknowledge that both of us cared very much about our country AND (not but) had very different views about what our country needed.

The months of debate did not change our respective votes, but I was changed. I learned that when faced with someone who did not agree with me, I could be curious instead of critical. I could listen instead of lecture. I could respect rather than reject. And most importantly, I could connect rather than separate.

Do I put this into practice at every opportunity? I wish. But when I do, there is a shift in my world, a reminder that letting go of being right is often a small sacrifice for living in joy.


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