From “How Could You?” to “How Can We?” A Story and A Playbook

(From Jeff):

At the end of a lunch conversation I had with someone who wanted to learn more about Love Not Fear, the person I was talking with told me this story about the experience that drove him to look for us. He sent it to me later via message, and this is what he said:

My partner voted for President Trump; I voted for Hillary Clinton.

Neither I nor my partner, nor many, many other people, had good answers for what happened next.

Post election my partner and I, who up to that time were having what I would describe as a loving, healthy relationship, become angry at each other when we talked about the election.

I had to be ‘right.’ I would not accept her reasons for voting for President Trump as a good choice, or even a valid, rational response to the realities of the political/economic/social situation(s) as I understood them. My perspective was ‘correct.’ I did not accept her perspectives of what happened, why, and consequently the validity of the choices she made. And that included her expectations.

As a result our relationship was dissolving before our eyes. Neither of us knew what to do for certain. As I said there was no ‘playbook.’ We did agree that we valued our relationship. And we valued each other: everything about each other, even the things we didn’t like, because that’s who we were.

We agreed to stop reading Facebook, because we found it inflammatory, incendiary. FB was an addiction, an emotional fix that reinforced our perspectives and made it increasingly difficult to communicate with each other. Each time we talked and at least partially bridged our gap, merely reading FB, or listening to other news sources, emails, etc., set us at odds again, sometimes with even more certitude.

Fortunately, over the course of the next several weeks we began to understand that we were the only true reality. Not manipulative FB posts that prompted an emotional response of a certain kind. Not TV commentators or news articles written from a certain bias.

I came to realize that she had valid reasons for her beliefs, reasons that I in fact shared. I couldn’t make decisions for her, run her life. I couldn’t. Only she knows what’s best for her. I had to give up my superiority, my control, and just be who I am, just be ‘me,’ and let her be ‘her.’ That was good enough.. In fact it had to be because that is all there is.

It was better for both of us. We can share who we are; not hide behind our knowledge, education, etc. Its honest. Its getting to know ourselves and each other; growing together. (We can only ‘be’ ourselves when we’re with someone else.)

“Where the myth fails, human love begins. Then we love a human being, not our dream, but a human being with flaws.” — Anais Nin”

That notion of a “Love Not Fear Playbook” was one that we had kicked around before in a couple of contexts, and it struck me that this man was describing one of the core experiences that led me to start Love Not Fear. So I asked my friend and Love Not Fear Leader Amy, who is a clinical psychologist, to comment on what a playbook might look like, and here’s what she said:

 This is a great story. It reminds me of the poem by Rumi that starts:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”
If we are to write a playbook for how to restore and maintain relationships across differences, especially political differences in this age of hyper-partisan politics, then it contains these basic moves:
First, identify who is important to you, and then notice if your actions are moving you toward that person or away. Being “right” feels so good, and it’s so hard to be kind to people we believe are dead wrong, or else willfully ignorant of the facts as we know them.
So another important move is the willingness to hold lightly our ideas about right and wrong and the way things should be.
Remember “the dress” that achieved internet fame a couple of years ago? I remember showing my husband the picture of the white and gold dress only to have him describe it as blue and black. It was truly upsetting to me. How could this person that I know so we’ll see this simple picture so differently? I actually spent some time researching explanations for the phenomenon, all of which boiled down to this:
Seeing is perception, and perception is influenced by both our biologies and our histories. Perhaps my husband and I perceived different colors because he has a different history with colors than I do. I needed to be able to let go of being right in order to try to understand how someone else could see it differently.
If our histories influence something as basic as color perception, how much more do
they influence our perspectives on weightier matters like politics, religion, and
parenting?
Trying to understand where someone is coming from is literally that – asking what has been this person’s life experience? How does it make sense that they perceive the world as they do? And how does my particular life journey make sense of the beliefs I hold?
If we can do this with kindness and compassion, we can love even when we disagree.

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