WARNING: This may cause a visceral reaction
Some of the most powerful collaborations and some of the most rewarding relationships I’ve enjoyed are with people who are different from me. We have very different views on politics and religion, and we might learn that we differ about lots of other things, if we sat down and made a list. But we don’t.
My friends and colleagues and I don’t waste our precious, irredeemable time talking about things we don’t agree on. None of us feel the need to persuade the others to believe what we believe or to vote the way we vote. Of course, there have been a few exceptions, like the time one of my friends said boldly, “I forbid you to vote for XXXXX!” I smiled and asked her to join me at an event to share her knowledge about preventing child abuse.
I am blessed to be able to travel all over the US speaking about preventing child abuse and child sex trafficking, and my personal favorite topic: how to mine the lessons out of our painful experiences to find and fulfill our unique purpose (what call succeeding because of what you’ve been through). In my travels I have the honor and privilege of speaking with people who share my views and with people who do not. I’m pleased to say that I treat the people in both groups exactly the same way. The operative word here is “groups.”
The secret to powerful collaborations and beautiful relationships is interacting with individuals, not groups. When we look into one another’s eyes and connect on those things on which we are passionate, we can spark a fire in one another and in others within our influence. Conversely, when we fail to see each other as unique individuals, we’ll categorize others as part of groups with which we may either feel strong allegiance or vehement disagreement.
When we label others as part of a group, we miss out on so much. The things I’ve learned from people who are different from me cannot be contained here. The most important for me is the understanding of the “why” behind their opinions and beliefs. When we get a glimpse of the pain that has informed the beliefs of others, we are far more sympathetic to their positions. Likewise, when we are willing to listen to their “why,” they are far more likely to listen to ours. That’s called mutual respect, and that’s what forms the foundation on which we can build good results.
Listening doesn’t imply agreement. We can listen to each other and still strongly disagree. But we come away with a better understanding of the position of the other person. Importantly, rather than feeling obligated to persuade someone to our point of view, when we truly listen to others, we have an opportunity to share our differing opinion in a way that has a much better chance of being received and absorbed. An example of this is with a client who became a dear friend of 30+ years.
Leslie (I’ve changed her name so that she doesn’t get hammered on social media), is a lifelong Christian. She has been a foster mother to countless children who desperately needed a mother and a solid foundation of love. She has lived her life for others. Leslie is an advocate of legalized abortion.
Being an advocate for children and being a proponent of abortion just don’t connect for me. These two things are at odds in my mind, making my friend a living, breathing oxymoron. For me, a child advocate advocates for every child—including those who are unborn. So when my friend’s position came up in conversation, I said, “I don’t want to start a rift with you—I love you and I respect you, so would you please explain to me how you justify abortion as an acceptable choice for some people?” Without missing a beat, my friend said, “God gave us all free will to do whatever we please, so I do too.” I didn’t see that coming.
Aren’t we all living, breathing oxymorons? We detest people who break the rules and then we drive 10 miles over the speed limit. We can’t tolerate the deceit of others, and then we lie and say we can’t make it when, in truth, we don’t want to go. We look down on people who are disingenuous, and then we photoshop our selfies to look skinnier, younger, and cuter. We are all flawed to various degrees, and none of us has been granted authority to judge and convict others.
The moral to this story is to look at each other as individuals, respect one another, regardless of our differing opinions, and to choose invest our precious, irredeemable time talking about, and acting on, the good we can do in the world together rather than wasting time talking about our differences.