Updated: Dec 15, 2019
Now that I have your attention…Can we talk politics?
Specifically, I want to tell you about one of my favorite experiences moderating Better Angels Red/Blue Workshops. (https://www.better-angels.org/). In case you don’t know about these workshops, they are a growing phenomenon, intended to bring together individuals who lean conservative (reds) and those who lean liberal (blues), in equal numbers, in order to learn more about one another’s views and find common ground… or at least tone down the polarization for a minute.
This favorite experience of mine has happened so often, that I am beginning to expect it. It’s the moment when someone, from one side or the other, says “wow, I think I belong on the other side.”
This comment tends to occur after the fishbowl exercise, when each side has witnessed the other side discussing what they find valuable about their side’s views, and what concerns they have about their own side’s views. It’s as if the exercise allows folks, on both sides, to loosen the grip on their respective poles, just enough to reach across and tap into the point of view of the other. It seems, in those moments, that the room lightens a bit with the glimmer of awareness that neither side has the right answers, and perhaps there is merit in at lease considering what the other has to say.
What I love about these instances is that the poles, both red and blue, reveal themselves to be more constructed than concrete; more labeled than literal. It is when the precious poles expose themselves as artificial divides, serving to keep each side dancing in place rather than moving forward, perhaps towards one another to a better understanding of what might be possible together.
Which brings us back to pole dancing….which I have never done, though from what I can tell it looks like a lot of fun and a great workout.
No longer limited to seedy mens’ clubs and strip joints, pole dancing has shimmied its way into mainstream America with classes at neighborhood gyms, dance studios and even YMCAs. Trust me, I googled it. 63,000 hits for pole dancing classes across the US. It’s way cool!
And it’s supposed to be great for strengthening your core.
Perhaps that is the idea.
And yet, what good is a robust core if not to help with heavy lifting, such as what is being asked of all of us in our civic duty as Americans?
No one said Democracy was going to be an easy waltz through the park.
It requires guts, smarts, and the willingness and ability to test out different ideas while at the same time holding true to what matters most. Not an easy feat, and especially not done well lopsided, as would be the case if everyone clung tightly to one pole more than the other.
How can we hold true to our own core values and beliefs while entertaining the possibility that there is merit beyond what we think we know? How might we loosen our hold on our own point of reference just enough to reach across and make contact with others and compare notes… in order to make America as great as she can be, for all?
We are wired to gravitate to those like us. We create stories, collect data and facts, and reinforce beliefs that keep us glued together, dancing around a common pole. This is human nature…not good, not bad… just real, raw, and honest. The need to connect is fundamental to our emotional, social, and now they are finding, physiological well-being. A mentor of mine taught me that real security comes from connection. Most all of our behavior, consciously and not so consciously, serves to keep us in some way connected to others, even if it’s to simply know that we are loved and have a place.
The challenge is to not let those connections pin us down. The opportunity is to notice when connections tether us so firmly in one place, they start to separate us from others who could actually be more like us than we know, or, better yet, might have a smidgen of insight that could provide benefit.
What I witness in those tiny yet magical moments in the Better Angels Red/Blue Workshops, when someone loosens a hold on their own pole just enough to reach across and consider what might be true, interesting, or common with the other pole, is a moment of incredible courage.
And courage comes from the word cor meaning heart, or core of our being.
How can we honor both what is core to who we are, AND core to what we can create together?
I do believe that this work is about building our core, asking us to both stand strong in what matters to us as individuals and reach out to find and build those connections that continuously reinforce the core of this great enterprise we are blessed to be part of.
There is room enough for both.
Here are some suggested practices for building this capacity:
Notice when you are reinforcing your own pole of thinking through what you read, listen to, and watch. Then challenge yourself to read, listen to and watch something that represents the other pole. Consider what the world looks like from that vantage. Notice the judgment and see if you can move past the judgment to being curious about that point of view. (note this can be a particularly heavy lift)
When you have an opinion about something, ask yourself, ‘how might I be wrong?’ or ‘ what might I be missing?’ You can further stretch yourself by asking someone of the other side to answer those questions for you.
Practice listening to others as if they came into your life to teach you something.