This is Going to Be Uncomfortable
Many of us are having tough conversations these days, saying things and engaging people on topics that we never have before. These can be fraught discussions and cause significant anxiety. Will I lose friends because we have different perspectives? Will I have to "cancel" my family members when I hear how differently they think? Will this conversation just make me angry and frustrated and not accomplish anything at all? These are legitimate fears. Thankfully, there are more and more resources coming to light to give us the tools we need to have productive and meaningful dialogues with one another.
During the quarantine, the New York Times has started publishing a new Sunday supplement called "At Home". Amid the recipe suggestions and simple stretching encouragements, there are articles on interacting with your family members in new ways. One recent article, "Have a Tough Talk About Race," encourages readers to engage those around us on a topic many of us have avoided for too long.
The article includes several themes that also emerged during our June Anti-Racism conversations such as being sure we are listening to the other person rather than just waiting for them to finish talking so that we can respond, and keeping these dialogues in the realm of the real world rather than on social media. The main points of the article are outlined here, and click through for the full article above.
Manage Expectations: Know that you are not going to change the mind of someone who thinks radically differently than you do. At least not in one sitting. Respect this relationship enough to prepare to engage multiple times, and be clear on the distinction between a dialogue (listening and learning) and a debate (a close-minded process of trying to convince someone that you are right).
Practice Active Listening: This is a type of communication where you "listen to understand rather than listen to respond." This practice can help us in all areas of our lives, but particularly in conversations around contentious subjects where it's easy to misconstrue someone's meaning because we were thinking more about our own retort than their statement.
Take a Break if You Need One: If you or the other person are becoming emotionally distressed because of the conversation, take a breather, grab a glass of water, and return when you both feel like engaging again will be productive.
Set Boundaries: This is a big one. If you can't agree on the most basic ground rules (like the fact that black people's lives matter), then this might be a situation where keeping yourself safe and sane is more important than engaging this person.
Keep Conversations Off Social Media: We all know it, but tend to do it anyway. It's too easy on social media for things to get distorted and anger-fueled. And can potentially just make things worse.
Remember Your Own Evolution: We're each on our own journey, ourselves included. It's good to keep that in mind when talking to people who aren't as far up the social justice ladder as you may be.
Unlearn Racism Together: Women+ in Design PGH invited you to talk with us. We're not experts, just people trying to figure things out too. Do that for someone else. Imagine the difference it could make if we each encouraged one more person on the road to deeper understanding and commitment to being antiracist.
For inspiration on talking to people who have different views than you, check out what StoryCorps is doing with their One Small Step program. It really is incredible the difference a single conversation can make in our ability to be more compassionate and empathetic people. And, if you're interested in being paired with someone with opposing political views to have one of those constructive conversations, WESA is one of the host stations for the initiative! Check it out here and let us know if you are chosen! (Many thanks to Susan D. for the tip!)
Wherever you dive in, we'd love to hear how the conversation goes. Let us know in the comments some of your success stories or lessons learned.