Have you ever had an experience that taught you a good lesson, only to realize that you’ve learned that lesson before?
Just recently, for example, I had a conversation with someone I have been close to for years, but someone with views very different from mine. I was often irritated by his past Facebook postings on political and social issues, so much so that I let myself get all worked up because he had ideas that I couldn’t support. Mostly, I kept my feelings to myself in order to keep the peace (although, occasionally, a snide remark would slip out), but I did make some negative judgments about him that, unfortunately, I didn’t recognize as unfair until later on.
We met recently for dinner, and the conversation wandered right into the areas where we most disagreed. It was entirely comfortable and respectful. I wasn’t so much surprised by this as I was by what I learned of his views from what we discussed.
As we talked, I asked questions to clarify his positions and countered with insights and ideas of my own. He did the same. As this happened, I learned what had led him to believe what he did, that is, the information and beliefs that guided his reasoning to his final conclusions.
This type of conversation is much more enjoyable and productive than drawing battle lines and focusing only on challenging each others’ viewpoints. It’s the way that I could see more of what was on his mind. And from that, I learned that both of our views were more nuanced than any Facebook posting can show. Instead of being at diametrically opposed positions on opposite sides of the political divide, we had instead arrived at differing conclusions from many of the same values and some of the same facts.
Afterward, I felt more like we were close, but disagreeing, whereas before, I had sometimes felt that we were much more different than we turned out to be. I am embarrassed that I had to have this happen, because I’ve seen this so many times before – both in my own life and with some of our LifeMatters callers. It’s way too easy to make assumptions about others and to fall into the trap of relating to them based on an unproven assumption.
The maintenance of any quality relationship depends on the level to which the two parties understand each other, and that depends greatly on how well and how often they communicate. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the “how well” often depends on the “how often.” Think of a good, thoughtful, reflective conversation as a way to keep a relationship clean from the baggage that accumulates when assumptions are left unchecked, and where you can regularly check in with the other person to be sure what they are thinking. In this way, the relationship can always keep its edge, because it will stay current, fresh and free of unnecessary baggage.